Tag Archives: children

Getting rid of the expectation of perfection

sabotage happiness


When I notice an underlying grouchiness in my spirit, a tendency to criticize all the people around me, that feeling that I can barely stand to be around anyone – then I know it’s time for me to do a little attitude-adjusting.

Lately, I’ve been feeling bristly. My kids have been accusing me of being too critical; they feel they can’t do anything right. They are bickering, fussing, pointing out each other’s every mistake. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake because it just dawned on me this morning that they are nit-picking and tattling and criticizing because of the tone I am setting in our home. Oh, I know – they can behave that way all on their own with no help from me. Trust me! I know that. But negativity and criticism are contagious, and I’m afraid I am the one who started spreading it.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been a bit stingy with grace. Or rather – maybe I’ve been a bit lazy with actual instruction and guidance. So it felt like I was giving lots of grace and then their disobedience and arguing and sloppiness and disrespect piled on and piled on until I lost it. Sometimes this process took a couple hours or an entire afternoon, and sometimes it took fifteen minutes of spiraling out of control. As it turns out, ignoring bad behavior or horrible attitudes — hiding in my room to sip coffee and nibble on dark chocolate while reading a novel, pretending I don’t have six children — is not a feasible long-term parenting strategy. It’s also not grace.

Instead of patiently and methodically and gently teaching my children, I’ve expected perfect behavior. And then I’ve lost my ever-lovin’ mind when they haven’t delivered.

For some reason, I got it in my head that because I have told them their whole lives to handle conflict by kindly speaking to the person and then calmly coming to me if that doesn’t work, I expect they will always handle conflict this way. Because I always handle conflict in a calm, level-headed way. Right? Ha!

I want them to do their chores with no reminders and not ever forget to plug their phones in my room at bedtime. Yet I get busy and forget to pay a bill, and by December I’ll forget to sign a homework agenda several times a week! And, trust me, my kids are old enough to know I’m not perfect. And they are old enough to resent my double standards.

When I expect perfection from my children, I rob our relationship of joy. You see, nothing can kill a relationship like the expectation of perfection. And, more than anything else, I want authentic relationships with my kids. Every time I hold up perfection as the standard and withhold grace, I sabotage my true happiness, my true joy in knowing and loving my children.

When I expect perfection, my children feel the need to hide and guard entire parts of themselves for fear of my criticism. But when I create an atmosphere of grace, my kids feel safe to be themselves in my presence.

So this morning, I am praying for grace to wash over me and fill up every crevice of my dry, crusty, critical heart. I want to soak in grace so that I can pour out grace, so that I can re-set the tone in my home.


People Skills


I’m writing this on my phone. And this is my view. So if I don’t make any sense, you’ll understand why.

It’s hard to make sense with this cuteness distracting you —


At breakfast Sunday morning we were discussing popularity — not a bad, go-with-the-crowd-no-matter-what popularity. Maybe what we were talking about would better be described as a people-skills popularity.

Actually, first we were answering a question from the Question Jar. What is your greatest ability or talent? Jackson answered, Making other people happy. Making people smile.

And we all agreed with him. It’s not that he is a people-pleaser, though he may have inherited a touch of that from me. Jackson genuinely loves people, not throngs of people but people individually. (He noted that difference himself.) And, in turn, people love Jackson.

At field day, as I supervised the bounce house line, one little girl saw my nametag and excitedly exclaimed, “Are you Jackson Hatcher’s mom?!? He is so popular!!” And, for a fourth grader at his elementary school, he is.

So around the breakfast table, we discussed popularity and why people love Jackson. He isn’t popular in the way some kids are popular. He isn’t a great athlete; he doesn’t make the best grades; he doesn’t wear the latest fashions. No Elite socks halfway up his shins. No American Eagle underwear waistband an inch above his shorts. He doesn’t even have a cool haircut. His sister who plans to begin cosmetology classes next year practices on him. (Please feel free to take notes on my excellent parenting skills – yes, I let my daughter who has never actually taken classes in how to cut hair practice on her brothers. Because it’s free.)

Anyway, my theory is that Jackson is popular not because of who he is or what he does, but because of how he makes the other kids feel when they are around him. He truly wants people to feel happy. He pays attention to people. He listens. He shares. He is kind.

When a little girl was returning to school after dealing with some hard things, the entire classroom of children agreed in a class meeting that Jackson should sit beside her upon her return. Because he would make her feel welcomed and happy.

A couple of my boys had this teacher for kindergarten. She had this gift of making every student feel special, of making every parent feel like the favorite parent. When she spoke with you, you felt like you were her top priority. I remember talking with another teacher about this, and we agreed this must be how Jesus-on-earth was.

I bet each one of Jesus’ disciples felt like he was the favorite. I think every person Jesus spoke with had His undivided attention and felt special and important.

Obviously I am not saying Jackson is perfect like Jesus. But I am saying I think Jackson shows Christlikeness in the kind of friend he is to his classmates. He is popular because he makes each of his friends and classmates feel valued and important and special.

Oh, there are times he doesn’t. There are times he is selfish or distracted. There was the time he got caught up in the crowd and ended up making another child feel bullied. He’s not perfect. But he does have a gift, and it is really cool to see.

When he gets to middle school, the star athlete popularity or the cool clothes popularity might win out temporarily, and Jackson’s popularity may fade for a while. But I have no doubt that this gift of making people happy, of making people feel special and important and valued will be a huge part of the impact he makes in this world.

And in this way, I want to be more like Jackson when I grow up.


On realizing I have three teenagers . . .


Tomorrow, my three oldest children leave with the church youth group for a big, ten-day trip to Florida. Because my three oldest children are teenagers. Teenagers. Y’all! Seriously! Do you get what this means??!! It means — half my children are teenagers. And the others aren’t far behind. Griffin, the BABY!, for heaven’s sake!, is eight-and-a-half. Y’all! I am on the downward slope of raising children.

Excuse me while I go curl into the fetal position and rock back and forth in the corner.

PAUSE! I want to hit the pause button. Just for a little while. I do try to mentally hit the pause button or at least the pause-and-soak-it-in button. Last night, I forced all six of them to sit and watch a movie together — one of those feel-good, family movies on Netflix. I popped popcorn, and we all snuggled on the brown sectional couch for 99 minutes. Pausing time so I could have all my kiddos gathered close before three of them take off on a summer adventure with 50 friends. Those gathered-in, chicks-all-under-my-wings moments are precious these days.


It seems like yesterday I was in the thick of babies and toddlers and preschoolers. I was changing diapers and singing nursery rhymes and teaching ABCs and reminding everyone to say please and thank you and use their words. And now, here we are. Just like that. Jackson recently asked me if I know who Edward Snowden is, and then he clearly articulated his opinion about the entire situation. Last week, Griffin explained how his friends often debated the Bible and God-stuff during lunch. All of my boys have recently started shouting Safety! after they fart before the brothers can yell out Doorknob! and start punching the heck out of their arms. **Ladies, in case you don’t have brothers or sons, this is an actual game teenage boys play. I am so proud of my thirteen-year-old son for introducing his younger brothers to this classy pastime.


Lauren is half-way through high school, and Rach is right behind her. We’re talking SATs and ACTs and potential colleges. Sometimes we sit up late and laugh and talk, or we watch chick-flicks together. And sometimes we disagree about appropriate bathing suit styles or shorts lengths or how often a girl really needs Starbucks.

I am learning how to loosen my grasp and relinquish control while still loving fiercely.

This is not an easy thing for a momma to learn. But the next ten days will be more practice for me. Today, it’s been like my emotions are in a blender. All the feelings whirring around and around. So much excitement for all the fun they will have. A little bit of jealousy that they’ll have so much fun without me there to watch all the fun they’ll be having. A touch of worry and anxiety that something bad will happen while they’re out from under my care. (As if I have the power to prevent bad stuff from happening when they’re in the same zip code! Ha! Hello! Silas and his open-fractured arm would have something to say about that!) Oh, and an empty sort of sadness because I will truly miss them. Ok, I won’t miss the eye-rollling or the sighing or the Really, Mom? Really? reactions. But I will miss them. So, so much.


Most days, I feel like I am so not ready for this. For children with feet bigger than mine. For children who drive and drink coffee. For children who have intelligent opinions about Edward Snowden, for goodness’ sake! But it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not. It’s happening. They’re growing. They’re becoming themselves, people totally separate from me. They’re going on fun vacations without me. At least three of them are. Tomorrow. And I’m thrilled and proud and terrified and happy and sad and worried and excited.

Parenting to the Heart

I wrote this in June of 2008. And I sure need the reminder today. 

Just in case anyone else needs this reminder right now too. . . 

This morning, in his Father’s Day message, our pastor mentioned that our parenting should not be about performance.  We shouldn’t discipline to our children’s performance; we should aim for their hearts.

Now, I know this.  I really do.  But sometimes I forget.  The past couple weeks I have been so tired and so overwhelmed with my to-do list.  I got way behind on laundry and cleaning a few weeks ago and because of travels and more laundry and some sickness I haven’t caught up yet.  The giant mess in my kids’ room and the overflowing laundry hampers stress me out.  Stress and exhaustion and six children in an apartment are not a great combination.  So I desperately needed that reminder this morning.

Even when I know better, it’s easy to fall back into the bad habit of performance-based parenting.  It’s especially easy when I’m stressed and tired.  “I want you to obey because I said so.  And I want you to obey perfectly.  And I want you to obey now.  And I don’t want to have to think about your intentions or your motives or showing you grace or how I’m supposed to be building you up and showing you overwhelming, unconditional love.  I just want you to obey so my life will be easier.”

When I’m tired and stressed, I get angry too easily.  And then I respond from anger and not from love and certainly not from the perspective of forming the character of my children.  I just am irritated that I’m inconvenienced and that I have more work and that I’m dealing with the same exact problem for the sixth time in the past hour.  And I forget that my irritability and horrible example will just result in more work as the same irritability and anger shows up in my children’s attitudes.


So I needed the attitude adjustment this morning.  I’ll probably need it again tomorrow morning.  I’m slow that way.  Fortunately, I know from experience that the Holy Spirit will whisper reminders to me in the days to come.

Aim for the heart of my children.  Look for their motives and intentions.  Praise them liberally.  Don’t lump them all together and take out my frustration with one’s behavior on everyone else.  Show forgiveness quickly.  Look them in the eye.  Listen to them when they want to talk.  Have fun with them.  Laugh often.  Hug them.  Remember their ages and set my expectations accordingly.  Respond with love.  Expect mistakes and misjudgments and misbehavior; they are still learning.  Spend time remembering the moment each was born and the overwhelming joy I felt.  Keep in mind the Golden Rule.  Keep in mind 1 Corinthians 13.  Love them.  Love them.  Love them.  


from a Working Mom ~ what she wants you to know

Yesterday, I shared with you the Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom. As I said then, annoying and hurtful comments certainly aren’t reserved for SAHMs. Today’s guest-blogger is my sister-in-law, Julie, who has worked outside the home for many years. Julie and I both agree that the Mommy Wars is mostly media sensationalism, but we know that there are some attitudes and misunderstandings that feed the Mommy Wars notion. We believe healthy dialogue and listening to each others’ perspectives are always good things. So in that spirit, I share with you Julie’s perspective, in her own words —-


I sat in my boss’s cubical trying to explain. I liked my job on his ministry team, but I had been there for two years, and there wasn’t room for promotion. The marketing team had an opening and they were interested in having me interview for a full time position. This position also was going to pay almost double what I was making. It would be a great opportunity for me to learn and it would challenge me to grow and break into a new field that held my interest.

Knowing that I had been trying my hand at part-time employment after our 2nd child was born, he said something that day that cut me like a knife –

“But Julie, who will raise your babies?”

A while back when my sister-in-law, Jenn, put it out there on her Facebook page that she was looking for a working mama to write about the most annoying comments they have ever heard, I knew I had to write this post.

You see, for 17 years I have worked outside the home and I’ve heard it all. From well-meaning people who say, “It must be nice to have all of that extra income!” To which I want to respond, “Yes, our family is just rolling in the bank. Um we live in Colorado, hello, it’s not cheap” To not-so-well-meaning questions that, when my children were younger, sounded like “How do you leave your kids with a stranger every day?” To which I wanted to respond with an instant eye-roll and “You know it’s great. I’ve found a great serial killer for a sitter!”

My kids are older now and I’ve matured. I don’t get nearly as defensive as I used to feeling like I have to justify my path as a mother who has chosen to work outside of the home. But instead of focusing on all of the negative things that have been said to me through the years, things that have also been said to countless women who choose to work outside of the home, I realized this week it was the one line said to me by my old boss 14 years ago that encapsulated them all.

Why was it such a blow to me? Why does it still cause a bit of anger and hurt to rise up in my gut when I recall that conversation?

I was in my twenties, and I had two beautiful kiddos, a supportive husband, and a growing faith that I was using my gifts and abilities to help families—for Jesus. I was eager, and excited to give back to a ministry that I felt was making a difference in the world. And what was I getting back in return?

Guilt and shame.

It wasn’t so much what he said, it was how he said it. Condescending and self-righteous. Looking back now I realize, he was a supervisor losing a valued team member. He was going to have to find a replacement. I know this guy. He is a good guy who loves Jesus and his family. He didn’t mean to hurt me. He was speaking from years of what I believe is an attitude that many evangelicals have adopted. They put their personal cultural preferences over what the Bible actually says about certain subjects.

This is often played out in the cultural Mommy Wars. Jenn and I agree that the Mommy Wars are often brought to you by the media hype looking for a good catfight on programs like The View or The Talk. Things aren’t really that bad between my friends and family when this subject comes up. But one place that I have found the Mommy Wars raging the hottest is within evangelical circles. It almost feels like there’s a select few trying to hold on to a sense of what once was or an unrealistic ideal that just isn’t possible in society today.

I am older now and I quit allowing myself to feel guilt for working outside of the home. I made my choice because it was God who opened up doors for me. By feeling like I had to justify my path, I was allowing this false guilt to creep into my thinking. I was cheapening His work in my life. Often this guilt and shame from desiring to work outside the home would come from what I thought others expected of me. When I stopped allowing myself to be manipulated by this way of feeling, I realized that I have gifts and abilities that I can humbly say that the Lord has used through the years in some pretty incredible ways.

I am often asked now that the kids are teenagers, did they suffer as children? I can honestly answer “no” because the spirit in which I took my responsibilities was forged in being obedient to God’s leading in my life. The fact that suffer is a word actually used in this conversation is crazy talk to me. Were there times that I have been off-balanced? Worked too hard? Didn’t give them as much attention as they needed? Yes, yes, and yes! But any mother will attest to being guilty at some point of all of these things. No matter if they choose to work outside the home or not.

You know what? Every mother I know works. And you know what else? We need to stop arguing about how and where she does it. Period.

For the life of me I just can’t understand why we all just can’t agree that Mommy Wars wrapped in the Biblical justification for whatever side you fall on is just nonsense.

We must stop this craziness for our daughters, for our nieces, for our granddaughters. They are watching and we have a great opportunity. Let’s not blow it.

So to help end the negativity surrounding this subject, I wanted to do my part. I want to share with you five positive observations that have been said or done for me—or I have learned over the years as a working mother. Now that I am older, I use them as guide to help me support other mothers, no matter if they work outside the home or not.

If you have other mamas around you, I challenge you to think about some of these examples, and use them to love on the women God has put in your path.

Aunt Sue
Whenever we visit my husband’s family I often find myself having these beautiful conversations with his Aunt Sue. I’m always attracted to talking with her because she has this way of drawing you into conversation in such a loving way. When I was in 20’s and working with babies, I noticed right away that the way she would always make a point to ask me how my work was going. What did I like most about my job? What I was learning? She still does this today. Aunt Sue models how I should take an interest in all mothers around me. She showed me through her actions and words how to see past the stereotypes and ask about the individual. The world needs more women like Aunt Sue.

Treat It Like A Season
After being hurt so badly by my former boss, I sought advice from a Vice President in the company who just happened to be one of the few women in leadership. She wisely looked at me across from her desk after this incident 14 years ago and said something I have never forgotten. Treat this like a season Julie. Don’t be angry. Instead, step back and ask yourself to do something intentional. Look at this as a season. One day, God may ask you to be at home. One day you may have to work more. Treat it all like a season. So when you see a mom who is struggling, hurt or torn, remind her it will not be forever. Point her to being faithful in the season, and to the one who has her there. Do this because time will eventually change the landscape for her. This advice helped me get the focus off of other’s opinions of me, and see the big picture. I am forever grateful for this lady’s ability to redirect my thinking.

If Mama Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy
Another great lady and mentor friend of mine gave me this sage advice one day when I was communicating how much joy I felt when I worked, but I felt guilty because, you know I should feel guilty. She told me about her own mother who was very accomplished. How she would get the “guilties” and stay home with the kids when she caved into external cultural pressure. When her mother was home, my mentor told me it was terrible. Her lovely mother would get cranky and frustrated. My dear friend told me, her mother was the happiest when she worked, and that she set the whole tone for their family. I never forgot what my mentor then said to me. If Mama Ain’t Happy Julie, then Ain’t Nobody Happy. So work if it makes you happy. Stay home if it makes you happy. Your kids will reap the benefits of your being in tune with who God made you to be.

Remember The Broad Appeal of The Proverbs 31 Lady
I realize that every Christian woman wants to see herself in this lady. That is why she is there. And you know what else about her? She has a broad appeal. She could be a work from home kind of gal, or a market place chick. Either way you see her, she is a class act. And as long as I don’t put her in a box (I think God wouldn’t like that—that is why she is in Proverbs) she is a fantastic example to all women. No matter where they choose to work.

Refuse To Allow Work (Of Any kind) To Define Who You Are
For years I allowed my work to define my worth. You say well of course don’t do that, but I will challenge any woman, it is easier said than done. Women like to point to men who are most defined by their jobs. But I think women are just as guilty. And it sneaks up on us. From the CEO mom on the cover of Working Mother to the homeschooling mama who just wants a clean house. Our roles and jobs are so personal and shape who we are that they sometimes become our whole identity. We must keep in mind that these “jobs” here on earth are all temporary. We must first and foremost find our identity in the Lord. Jobs will change, family situations change and if this is the identity we have built for ourselves it is a farce. I’ve learned this lesson more times than I would care to, so I share it with you. Go deep with your work and with your family, but always allow God to be your source and vision.

So folks lets keep it positive. End the Mommy War today. Be sensitive to all moms around you, because we need the support no matter what path we choose.

Julie Abel loves Jesus, her husband Jeff, her kids Jacob (16) and Jessa (14), and their sheepadoodle Monroe. She has worked the last 19 years for Christian universities, in large corporate ministries, small affiliate ministries, and locally focused nonprofits. She and her husband own a consulting business, Rocky Mountain Media Group. You can check out her journey of leaving her suburban life in Colorado Springs behind to live in Estes Park, CO through her blog JulieAbel.com Work and Family.

Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom


Approximately sixteen years ago, when my first child was born, I became a stay-at-home mom. I’ve officially transitioned to part-time work-at-home mom, but my schedule is so flexible I still consider myself a stay-at-home mom. Over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of ridiculous comments about stay-at-home moms (SAHMs), but I’ve also received a lot of support and encouragement. Many of my friends are moms who work outside the home, and I haven’t felt any animosity from them. I actually tend to think the Mommy Wars is a thing sensationalized by the media, perhaps even fabricated by the media. But a couple months ago, I read something by a young woman mocking the notion of a SAHM being busy and complaining about SAHMs not pulling their weight financially. So I wondered how many people think what this young woman was bold enough to say.

I asked my SAHM Facebook friends what sorts of annoying or absurd comments they have heard. Based on their responses and my own 16 years of experience, I have compiled a list of frustrating and outrageous comments and our responses.

So – here are the Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom

1. Oh, you don’t work?  Ummm, yeah, I just spend my day doing leisurely things, like scrubbing bathtubs and doing laundry and volunteering at my child’s school and mentoring other moms and, you know, managing a household of eight people — not work at all. And when my children were smaller, I spent my days teaching preschoolers and toddlers their shapes and colors and letters and numbers and changing diapers and feeding babies and cutting up grapes and picking up toys and cleaning up spit-up and wondering when I’d find time to brush my teeth. So yeah, I didn’t work in the same way a preschool teacher or daycare employee doesn’t work.

2. Since you don’t work, you can volunteer for this. Just because I have a flexible schedule and I don’t receive a paycheck does not mean I am available to volunteer for everything. I do volunteer for many things, but I also have a lot of demands on my time and I have to protect some boundaries. Please don’t assume I am available for everything you need simply because I don’t go to a place called Work during the day.

3. Of course you have a clean house! You’re home all day! You have All.That.Time! No, because we are home all day with small children (AKA mess-makers), our homes are being wrecked all day by the blocks and Little People on the floor and the play-dough on the table and the crumbs from morning snack and the half-folded laundry that we tried to finish but were interrupted five times during our attempts. If you work outside the home and your children are in some sort of daycare or preschool or school-school, your vacuumed floors get walked on for three or four hours every evening; a SAHM’s vacuumed floors get walked on for 12+ hours a day. Besides, I never stayed home to clean my house; I stayed home to be with my children. Often, those two things seem mutually exclusive.

4. I don’t know how you do it! I could never stay home with my kids all day! They’d drive me crazy! I think I get the thought behind this — it’s that we’re all different and fueled in different ways and have different priorities and stress-levels. But please know – sometimes our children do drive us crazy. Sometimes the crying and the spit-up and the monosyllabic conversations make us feel just a little bit like sipping Xanax smoothies in a room with padded walls. But sometimes the office politics or the seemingly impossible sales goals or the difficult parents of students or the whatever stresses of our former jobs made us a little bit coo-coo-crazy too. None of it is easy, friends. Stress is everywhere.

5. What do you do all day??? See the answer to #1. It probably looks different for every SAHM. When my children were little, I nursed and changed diapers and read board books and sang nursery rhymes and stacked blocks back up after a toddler knocked them over and clapped for the tenth time. I did all the things with my children that your child’s preschool teacher does with him. Now that my children are in school, I spend my days organizing the lives of eight people and volunteering in a Bible study and for the school and for the community and I write and sometimes I even clean my house or do some laundry or take my dog for a walk.

6. You stay-at-home moms don’t contribute financially. I have saved my family so much money by staying home! We never paid a penny for daycare or preschool — that’s a HUGE amount of savings! I never bought a work-outside-the-home wardrobe. We have spent much less money on eating out and convenience groceries, coffee shop coffees and commuting expenses. We are in a lower tax bracket because I do not have a full-time job outside the home. But that’s not even the point for me! The intangible benefits of being home with my children cannot possibly be measured monetarily. I nursed every ear infection, saw every first step, heard every first word. I taught them their colors and shapes and how to sing their ABCs and count to one hundred. I taught my children to read. I snuggled on the couch and napped with them after a sleepless night of teething or sickness or night terrors. You can’t put a dollar amount on any of that.

7. You’re so lucky! I wish I could stay at home, but I could never afford it. For some women, this is absolutely true. You are a single mom or your husband is disabled or unable to work. You truly have no option except to work outside the home. And you say this to SAHMs with full sincerity. For you, my heart is filled with compassion; I wish you could stay-at-home too. But I think this comment frustrates so many SAHMs because this is not a luxury we have happened upon. Most of us are not lucky. Most of the SAHMs I know have made great sacrifices to be home. For years, we lived in a tiny house and rarely ate at restaurants. We drive old cars and purchase things at thrift stores and consignment shops. Well over half the furniture in our home was owned by someone else first. We have never had cable TV. We don’t take week-long vacations to the beach each summer. For a long time, Date Night for my husband and me was eating Sonic take-out in our living room while playing Trivial Pursuit after our children were in bed because a babysitter and a movie or a nice restaurant were not in the tight budget. We have sacrificed because we believed it was best for me to be home with our children, because I felt compelled to stay home with them. (And I don’t say that AT YOU in any sort of accusatory way. It’s just that this is the choice I knew that I knew that I knew was best for us.) That initial choice for me to quit working outside the home was a huge step of faith. But over and over and over again, we have seen God provide in amazing ways — so, yes, we are blessed or fortunate. But I believe that blessing has come as a result of my being a SAHM, not as a cause. I have been blessed to see God provide for our needs in some pretty incredible ways, and I have been blessed to spend the past 16 years pouring into the lives of my children in a way I could not have if I had also been pouring into a job outside the home.

Are you a stay-at-home mom? Have you heard these comments? Did I miss anything?

I know not every mom wants to be a stay-at-home mom. I know some women decide it is best for them and for their children if the mom works outside the home. Some women feel as compelled to go to a place called Work as I have felt to be at home. And I know annoying comments aren’t only reserved for SAHMs, so coming soon — a perspective from a mom who works outside the home.

Adjusting Expectations

When my children were younger and I was younger, I felt disappointed often. You see, I had these crazy, ideal expectations. And, of course, they were rarely met. And by rarely I mean never.


I would plan a a family day of going to the zoo. Inside my head, I would imagine my six offspring in adorable outfits, looking like Children’s Place child models even though the only Children’s Place clothes we had were hand-me-downs that had been worn already by three children. These children of my imagination would hold hands and smile and stay to the right of the walkways throughout the zoo. They would ooh and aah over the mind-blowing information on those little signs by each animal. When it was time to walk to the next animal, they would all walk together to the next enclosure. In my imagination, no child ever tried to climb onto fences that clearly had large No Climbing signs on them. No child whined, But I don’t wanna waaaalk that waaay. It’s too looonnnnggggg. Birds are stuuuupid anywaaaayyyy. My expectations never included one child calling another monkey poo or one child running half a mile ahead while another lagged half a mile behind. My expectations never included children complaining about the granola bars and water bottles I had packed and throwing themselves on the ground in a sorta-kinda-hunger-strike demand of ice cream from the zoo snack bar. Which is all quite odd since I actually live with my children every day of the year and know how children can be. I guess I just somehow thought that for Family Day, they would all change personalities and develop absolute self-control.

So I would feel grouchy and disappointed. And then I would start acting all grouchy and disappointed and not at all like the idealized version of myself I imagined I would be. Of course, then I would get annoyed with myself because really, what kind of mother whisper-screams through gritted teeth at her kid for acting like a tired and grouchy child when he is actually a tired and grouchy child? 

Every holiday and family day and special anything would result in disappointment and frustration. For me. Later, though, my children would speak of these days and remember only the good parts. Somehow, they’d forget about the brother who sat down and screamed and cried and refused to take another step because there was a pebble in his shoe and the world was sure to end any second. This sort of Children’s Brain Feature is the exact same one that compelled my son to once say, “Momma, I loved the way we used to all have church at home on a Sunday morning. Daddy would play the guitar and we would sing songs and talk about what we were learning about Jesus. I loved that! We used to do that all the time!” And really, we had done that exactly ONE time. ONCE. Ever. This Children’s Brain Feature is surely one of the most beautiful expressions of grace God has given to parents. We get like ten times the credit for doing something once. Grace upon grace.

Anyway, as time has gone by, I have gradually shifted my expectations to be a little more realistic. As I look ahead to special days or family outings, I expect that my children will act exactly like they act every other day of the year. I expect that we will have moments when all eight of us are feeling kind and happy and having fun, but that these moments will happen on a backdrop of the rest of the day, in which one or more of us will be hungry or tired or have a headache or feel irritable. And then I choose to feel incredible gratitude for the sweet moments and file those in my mental scrapbook and try to block out the rest.

This weekend has been an opportunity for me to practice this different-expecatations sort of approach to parenting and life. We don’t want to call it lowered expectations, so we’ll go with different expectations or, perhaps, more realistic expectations.

On Friday, we loaded up the family in the big, red van to drive to Lauren’s away soccer game. From there, we would all go two-and-a-half hours away to North Carolina for Caleb’s first dive meet. We’d check into our budget hotel and get some sleep, then we’d spend the entire day Saturday at the aquatic center for the dive meet. In the past, I would have imagined a fun van ride singing along to songs and reading aloud to the children followed by a cozy night in the hotel and a day of everyone excitedly cheering on Caleb in his first ever diving competition. But I’m older and wiser now. This time, my expectations more closely matched reality.

Caleb woke up Friday morning with strep throat, so he stayed home from school and went to the doctor to get started on an antibiotic. Rachel came home from school with strep symptoms, so I scrounged around in a drawer and found half a bottle of an antibiotic from last fall and started her on that. Yes, I am aware of all that is amazing about my parenting from that last sentence, but I hope you don’t feel too jealous or intimidated. So – for those of you keeping score at home – we started the trip with two sick, feverish children and a boy with a badly-broken arm still in a soft cast, on a Friday evening after a very long week. So it was no surprise that everyone was tired and a little grumpy and eager to plug into headphones and tune out everyone else on the ride down Friday night. It was not a sing-along, read-along, play the license plate game sort of van ride. But there were only a handful of he told me to shut up or she needs to mind her own business or no, I’m not an idiot; you are! kind of moments. So I chose to call the ride down a success, a good memory in my mental scrapbook.

At the hotel, three children slept in the room with Grandpapa and Grandmama and three slept in the room with my husband and me. Shockingly, there was only about one minute of arguing about who would sleep where before we came to a plan everyone could be happy with. Again, we’re going with success and happy memory here.

As we were falling asleep, Silas – the one with the arm in a cast – began this moany cry about how his arm was itching and he couldn’t stand it and it was horrible, just awful, absolutely awful, and really, really itching and he couldn’t scratch it and we didn’t understand how awful it was and aaaaaaaaahhhhhh. And for the first 30 seconds, I felt deep motherly compassion for him. But after my initial, “I know, sweetie. I’m so sorry it’s uncomfortable.” response, he did not stop the moany cry and calm down, like he obviously should have because of my awesomely sweet 30 seconds of mothering. We had already given him Tylenol for pain and melatonin to help him sleep, which was a huge ordeal because, for some inexplicable reason, he didn’t want to swallow those things, so there were kind encouragements, followed by desperate pleas, followed by threats. And so that had already all happened before the moany cry had begun, which meant we could not give him the very last dose of Tylenol with codeine (which we were saving for Saturday anyway). After my 30 seconds of sweet Carol Brady mothering, I quickly transitioned to Rosanne mothering mode. “Yes, we get it. You itch. For the LOVE! Can you please learn to cry in a quiet way? I cry and tears come, but I don’t wail and moan. It’s possible to cry without wailing and moaning. Try it. Stop wailing right now. You are waking your brother, and he needs to sleep because he has to compete tomorrow. Stop it. Moaning and wailing is not making you feel better; it’s just making everyone else feel worse. Stop it. Stopitrightnow.” Finally, I had a blessed epiphany! The bottle of Benadryl was in the suitcase. Benadryl is designed for itching! Also for making children sleep. But, in this case, he was actually itching and so I had a very good, solid reason to give it to him. So we gave him the Benadryl and he slept. And this child-wailing and mother-snapping did not ruin the weekend -or even the night- because I had totally expected something like that to happen. Success!


Though I was tempted to want all the children to be interested in diving and watch expectantly for each of Caleb’s dives and ooh and aah and cheer, I knew that just having them present in the stands was enough. Good enough is good enough – my parenting mantra you may steal as your own.

I expected Silas to tell me he was bored 50 times, but he only told me about 20 times. Success! I expected Jackson and Griffin to crawl under bleachers and run around and bang on the seats and annoy everyone around us. And they only did that a little of the time instead of all the time. Success! The girls read books, and when we said, “Caleb’s up!” they turned their eyes toward the boards, watched him, clapped a couple times, then returned to their reading. Success! Silas napped for a while on the bleachers. While he was napping, he could not tell me he was bored or itching or hurting or anything. Success! When Lauren told me her throat hurt for the fifteenth time and I had already told her to take a drink of something and that I couldn’t do a thing about it, I just smiled and said, “Yes, got it! Your throat hurts. Now you don’t have to tell me any more. Until further notice, I’ll know your throat hurts. So only tell me if it stops hurting. OK? Ok.” And I didn’t feel irritated or annoyed or disappointed.

And since this was Caleb’s first meet, we had no clue what to expect for him. We were just happy to be there and hoping it would be a learning experience. When he came in seventh out of eight divers in one event, there was no disappointment. Only pride that he hadn’t done any belly flops or back flops or total fails. And when he won first place in another event – mostly because he was the only kid in that division, but whatever, First Place, baby! – we clapped and cheered and congratulated him and told him how proud we were. Success!

In the midst of all of this, there were moments of kindness and happiness and fun. I’m filing those in my mental scrapbook. Remember when we used to always go to North Carolina and stay in that cozy hotel and Caleb won first place in diving and we had that fun picnic in the parking lot and we had so much fun? We loved that!