My name is Naomi and I am an overachiever.
I have always had high standards and great expectations of myself, as well as the people in my life.
I am also the mother of a toddler.
These 2 things do not work well in combination. Frequently my overachieving, “high level of expectation” desires are challenged by my stubbornly, defiant threenager. This conflict results in more yelling, tears, and stomping around by both of us, than I’d like to admit.
I get frustrated easily because Milly won’t eat what I want her to eat. When she was first eating solid foods, she ate almost everything we gave her. She loved all of the vegetables and fruits we offered her. Chickpeas were a staple. Avocados were her best-loved snack. Over the past 2 years, her preferences have shifted so dramatically that now her favorite food group is bread and most vegetables are out of the question. Milly won’t drink smoothies (unless she’s licking the spoon or drinking from a straw). She’ll often eat some veggies if we’re eating them, but won’t eat them independently. She begs for cookies and pretzels. She shuns kale.
I know what you’re thinking: “well, of course she does! She’s a toddler.”
And I’m with you. I’ll get there.
The truth is that because I have such high expectations of myself, as well as high standards, I tend to hold those same expectations and standards for everyone else.
Including my students. Including my husband. Including my 3 year old.
It’s not about the level of the expectations; it’s about the specificity of them.
I expect my husband, for example, to appreciate food in the same way that I do. Unfortunately, he doesn’t.
I appreciate food for its flavor, as well as its nutritive properties. Although I do have favorites, I get bored if I eat the same meal for days on end or the same meal once a week for several weeks. After a while, my taste buds start to reject it a bit and I need a new set of flavors in order to fully enjoy my meals.
If it was up to my husband, he’d eat the exact same meals every single day forever. He’d never get bored. He’d be perfectly happy, so long as they measured up to HIS expectations, which are that they supply the nutrients, calories, and protein he needs to maintain his health, as well as build strength. Taste doesn’t factor in to his food preferences.
If he was single, he’d probably make do with Soylent for all of his meals.
These are not my expectations. They’re his. Try as I might, I can’t force my otherwise wonderful husband to share my tastes, my food preferences, or my expectations. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sort of make me nuts that he’d happily drink Soylent for every meal if he had to take care of himself.
After many years together, I still get frustrated when the the only descriptor he can offer me about a meal is that something tastes “like salt” – which is not always a bad thing – or that something is spicy. On the plus side, he can detect cinnamon in anything I make (which is not always a good thing).
However, I’ve started to realize that when I hold him to the expectations or standards I have set for myself, I will always be disappointed. In the interest of not being disappointed regularly, I have started to think more about HIS expectations and consider why they are important to him. Sometimes this means that I make something for him that I have no desire to eat, which is ok. I make something else for me. Or if I want something for dinner that I know he won’t eat, I tell him that he is on his own. Yes, it can make for some complicated meal times, but with a little planning and advance food prep, it doesn’t add so much extra work that it’s overwhelming. Plus, there are many meals we both love.
I realized, too, that I have high standards for my students and clients, but it plays out in a much healthier way. I expect greatness from my students and clients. I believe in them. I see what they are capable of well before they see it for themselves. My own teachers did the same for me. However I don’t expect them to be able to DO WHAT I DO. I simply believe that they can do what they are capable of. This capacity is something that grows and shifts over time, as their desires and needs shift over time. So although I hold my students to a high standard, I don’t get upset or take it personally when they can’t push up into wheel or lift their feet off the ground in crow pose.
I am super proud to have students who keep showing up, who keep trying, and who inspire me to keep trying, even when I struggle. I’m less concerned with their ability to do a handstand and more appreciative of their commitment to their practice, even on the days that it feels almost impossible to even make it to their mat. This is my high standard: consistency and determination.
This got me thinking about why I get so worked up about Milly’s preferences and expectations. She’s 3, so realistically her expectations are pretty basic. She expects to be loved, fed, clothed, comforted, and entertained. She wants her food to taste good and she wants her clothes to not be itchy. She expects to be carried up the stairs when she needs to go to the bathroom, mostly because we do it out of fear that if we don’t, she will pee on the floor (past experience dictates that she will, purely out of stubbornness and anger). She expects us to cuddle her to sleep with books and songs because that’s what we’ve always done. In some cases, we’ve created her expectations; in others, she dictates her expectations. Either way, it’s up to me as her parent, to respect her expectations and continue to help shape them appropriately, as she gets older.
This might seem obvious, but it led me to realize that by forcing my own expectations on her, I was just being hostile towards her needs.
So I’ve pulled back a bit. I still wish she’d eat a more diverse range of food, but who am I kidding? I didn’t eat tons of broccoli when I was 3 either. Neither did her father, who apparently survived on yogurt and bread for over a decade.
I’m not lowering my expectations – I still have high expectations for myself. I am modifying my expectations for my kid and respecting her expectations. I will still ask her to try new foods. I will still offer her things she hasn’t tried in a long time. And I won’t hold her preferences against her. Or at least I’ll try really, really hard not to.