We brought our oldest and newest child home from Latvia right before Christmas and excitedly bought and wrapped presents for an extra special Christmas morning. Our kids were finally all together, our family complete after twelve years of working and praying.
They tore through the gifts, and then we went to Grammy and Granddaddy's house where they opened more gifts. We ate and ate and played with new toys and familied until we could family no more.
It was a satisfying day.
And then the next morning as I came out of the laundry room, my new daughter met me at the door and said, "Is this it?"
I blinked at her and replied, "What?"
"Is this all?" she asked. "Is there more? I want more presents."
We did not meet her expectations.
If I’m completely honest, deep down I was kind of angry with her, but, at the same time, I understood how our expectations can ruin even the best situations.
We do this as adults, don't we? Our expectations get the better of us. We open up our lives’ gifts and mutter, “Is this it? Is this all I get? Where's everything else?”
Is this my life? The whole thing? This job and this family and this spouse and this haircut?
Maybe I shouldn't admit this out loud, but I do this with motherhood sometimes. I worked and worked to be a mom, and now, up to my elbows in kid stuff, I whisper in the darkest recesses of my brain, Is this it? The sibling squabbles and exhausted evenings and never ending cycle of homework and checklists. Is this it?
I thought I'd have more energy. I thought I'd enjoy the teaching moments more. I thought I'd want to bake more and yell less and care about things like matching socks.
Our house is not an ad for Pottery Barn Kids. I am not a modern day Mary Poppins, and sometimes I scream instead of sing when my kids need to clean their rooms.
Is this it? Is this all there is?
I mull over my expectations and realize my idea of parenting may have been a weensy bit skewed.
Parenting is harder than I thought, and I’m learning to lay down the expectations that poison our time together. Maybe my kids will fight a lot, but in between the rounds, they’ll also learn to love a little. Maybe they won’t appreciate the work I do, but sometimes they’ll throw their arms around my waist. Maybe the days will feel long, but the years will fly by. Maybe in a decade or so, the daily work will be over, but they’ll still like me enough to come home for Christmas now and then. Maybe the hard stuff of parenting is forging me into a softer, gentler version of myself—one who’s able to laugh off a painful jab and clean up a spill with a smile and believe the best in these wacky kids who are awkward and trying to morph into whole people.
I pictured laughing family board games around the table, like the people on the box, but instead I get breaking up fights over who gets to be the blue piece and who has to be yellow. And it is enough. My life is enough.
Every day I’ll make the choice to lay down the expectations and pick up another allotment of gratitude.
Our lives are Christmas morning, and we can be thankful, or we can let expectations kill our joy. Even if we open our gift and it’s an ugly sweater or crappy socks, I’m not going to let my expectations of what I thought parenting would look like kill my joy of delighting in my kids.
Motherhood is messier and gooier than I thought. There are so many more balls to juggle than I pictured. More doctor appointments. Fewer fun-filled trips to family restaurants. Sometimes conversations with my kids feel more like a hostage negotiation where I’m the hostage and less like the respectful repartee I imagined from too many episodes of 7th Heaven.
Since that first Christmas morning with all of us together, I’ve ditched the expectations. Whether my kids love their presents or feel like their lives are utterly ruined, we are together, we are family, and that is it. We are enough because we are WE. Christmas morning and every day.
Written by Melanie Dale, author of Women are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends. Photo by Ashley Glass.