Life seems to have a way of getting crazy just when we don’t have time. There’s your child’s homework assignment that they forgot was due…tomorrow. An impending deadline at work that can’t be delayed any longer. What about the band concerts, dance lessons, or basketball games for your kids? School, church, and family obligations and responsibilities that we “have” to do. How do we balance all the demands on our time and energy?
Recently, I came to the point of realization that it wasn’t physically possible for me to accomplish and meet all my obligations the way that I had envisioned in my head. It was possible (though difficult) to meet the responsibilities on my list, but not in the way that I wanted them completed. Having realistic expectations of what I can and need to accomplish within the parameters of my life was a hard realization for me. I don’t just want to complete a task; I want to excel at that task. However, my overly high expectations of myself were leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, and negative self- worth. How do we combat these dueling feelings of inadequacy and the need for perfection?
Sounds simple enough right? However, how often do we sit down and write out all the demands on our time and energy for a day and then rank them? Try taking just 5 minutes and jotting down all the things that you need (or think you need) to accomplish for that day. Is it reasonable? How do you feel when you look at the list? Is it empowering and motivating? Or, do you feel the stress and anxiety like I did when I looked at mine? If your list is motivating, then you might have a good balance. However, if you react like I did, that’s a good indication that you are over-extended and need to pare it down a bit. How can I cut out something I “need” to do?
For those of us that suffer with perfectionistic tendencies, it’s hard to accept that less than perfect is good enough. Do we really need to be on every PTO committee at our children’s schools? Or, is being on one “good enough”? Are there things on your list where you can give yourself permission to be average? Adjusting the expectations that we set for ourselves can be a difficult thing to do, but I’ve found that being more flexible about what is and isn’t acceptable leads to a lot less stress.
After completing the first two steps, I realized there were several areas of my life where I’d created exceedingly high expectations. I had scheduled myself into a corner that didn’t allow for any deviation. Allowing for some flexibility in my schedule is very freeing; I don’t have to be doing something all the time. When something unexpected does pop up, I’ve left enough leeway to adjust accordingly.
I’ve learned that being able to look objectively at various aspects of my life and see where I can make improvements by doing less, either physically or mentally, is necessary at this stage. I simply can’t be or do all the things that I tried to tell myself that I had to. However, by carefully evaluating and choosing to prioritize the things most important to me, accepting that sometimes less than “perfect” is good enough, and allowing flexibility be my new mantra; I have a sense of strength, empowerment, and resiliency that was previously lacking.
The word “Millennial” is rarely used in a positive way. How is it that an entire generation has become the punchline of society’s best joke? Perhaps we use humor to ease the sense that something is terribly wrong and we feel helpless to change it. College counseling centers are bursting at the seams with newly hatched “grown-ups,” depressed, anxious, legitimately struggling to make it. Others, who may fare better emotionally, seem to possess an unparalleled sense of entitlement. There are endless ideas about what has gone wrong. Among those most commonly put on trial are “spare the rod” and “everybody gets a trophy.” While it is beyond the scope of this article to examine those theories, there are a few generally accepted approaches that can help parents get on the right track toward raising responsible, well-adjusted children in these rapidly changing times.
Parents can help kids form realistic expectations about life in the adult world. They can also provide the opportunity and support for children to practice valuable coping skills. To achieve these goals, parents should allow their children to routinely experience three normal life experiences and then teach them how to manage the resulting emotions:
Children need love and affection from parents to become healthy adults. They do not, however, need to always get their way. In fact, if a child learns to expect that their every desire will be continually fulfilled at home, it sets them up for future high conflict relationships and dissatisfaction in general. Parents should allow kids to regularly experience disappointment and teach them how to cope with the related difficult feelings. These childhood lessons can minimize grownup tantrums, the kind that occur when adults melt down because they did not get their way or things did not turn out as planned.
Children can learn valuable lessons from painful mistakes. However, when parents frequently rush to rescue their child, they teach the kid to expect that others will take ownership for their errors and thus share responsibility to solve their problems. Many parents do not want their children to experience sadness or failure so they come running to save the day. If this scenario becomes common, the older teen and adult may come to expect that employers, college professors or friends should sacrifice to solve their problems. Parents can prevent this sense of entitlement and instead promote self-confidence and problem solving skills by resisting the temptation to helicopter parent. This is not a heartless approach. Parents should offer support in the difficult growing process; a healthy dose of empathy can help kids learn to manage the emotional bumps and bruises that naturally accompany their missteps.
Nagging kids to do chores is no fun; however, requiring them to frequently complete these household duties has big payoffs. It teaches them that people must fulfill certain obligations to be part of a group. Children who learn this lesson from a young age tend to be more successful in relationships, academics, and career. When children are required to contribute to the family, it prepares them to live in a world where others will expect them to do their share.
Parents do their children a disservice when they shield them from the natural growing pains of life. So, the next time you are tempted to write the teacher a note because your teen failed an exam, or put your 9-year-old’s laundry away for the third day in a row, take pause, and ask yourself this question: What does this teach my child to expect from others? That they can always get their way, or that someone else should clean up their messes in life? If so, you may want to consider changing your course of action. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s adults and all of us would like to live in a world where grownups are prepared to manage disappointment, take responsibility, and pull their own weight.
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