I will often say that I have high expectations for my children or for my students. When we set high expectations it is because we don't want to create a ceiling for their potential, restrict their success, show that we don't believe they can do more. Setting high expectations can be encouraging, motivating, refreshing, a game-changer. High expectations for some can be constricting, heavy, overbearing, especially when it feels as if there is no possible way to obtain them.
All of my life I have tried to meet and then exceed people's expectations for me. I really am a "people pleaser" and probably why I was considered a teacher's pet when I was in school. I am also the first born and I think it's a part of our genetic make-up to be this way. I just want to make people happy. I hate the feeling of disappointing someone or not being what someone needs. As I age, there are more and more people that I'm trying to please. No longer is it just my parents, friends, and teachers...now it's my husband, my children, my colleagues, my students and so many more. I have to tell myself often that you can't be everything to everyone in a single moment. I can't be the perfect friend, or attentive wife, or innovative teacher, or patient mother, or forgiving sister every single moment of the day - it can't happen. I have also come to find that those expectations I thought people had of me, are really expectations that I have of myself. I am the one who has created this impossible goal of who I should be, not my parents or my husband or my friends. They love me and see me working extremely hard to be everything and to make everyone happy. Trying to live up to the expectations I have set for myself has caused me to spiral at different times in my life. I have to give myself grace as I transition through life, I can't be everything, always.
After the twins were born I suffered from postpartum depression. I always thought postpartum depression was the feeling of not loving your baby or not wanting to be a mom. For me, it was something very different and actually the complete opposite. I began to notice that I wasn't myself when the mention of someone stopping by to visit and meet the twins put me in a tail spin, or when we finally emerged outside to spend time with the neighbors, I felt like the conversation was happening around me and I was lost in it. I also cried, a great deal. When I finally went to talk to my doctor he said something that made complete sense...I need control, I crave it. I can't control everything right now, my arms can't possibly wrap around all of my life. I become anxious at the thought of people coming over because what if my house wasn't put together, or the babies were fussy, or the older three kids misbehaved, or I looked tired and not at my best. My doctor reminded me that those were my expectations. He shared how when I felt like I couldn't possibly meet them or control the situation I became anxious, severely anxious. I felt like I wanted to close all of the doors and stay huddled inside with just my husband and five babies, because that is as far as my arms could reach. My doctor assured me that this was normal and not at all surprising when you pair my personality with a fairly traumatic birth experience and NICU stay. I lost control on the day the twins were born, and I was struggling to regain it. I knew if I didn't find that control again I couldn't possibly live up to the expectations I had set for myself. I'm sorry for anyone who wanted to visit when the twins first arrived and my husband was my voice saying "not yet," it wasn't that we weren't doing well. I wasn't doing well.
When I went back to work this past fall, I started the cycle again of fear. Fear of not meeting the expectations of my boss, my colleagues, my students. Really these again were the expectations that I have for myself as a teacher and they are set extremely high. I was doing my best to keep a brave face, to lean on those I trusted and put my best out there each day, but I was drowning. Drowning in ETR paperwork, on demand essays that required feedback, creating materials, navigating a new writing curriculum, but also drowning in knowing my students personally, writing letters home, responding to emails, and being a good collaborator and leader. Mid-year my colleague and I decided to take a pause from the daily grind of curriculum and asked our students to share with us. That daily grind is because we feel these expectations on us to produce good test scores, to show growth in our students, and to provide the best instruction every minute of every day. To us it's more than test scores, we value teaching the whole child and sometimes that means diverting away from analysis and synthesis and just being real. We asked them to share with us their "pit and peak" since the school year has started. It didn't have to do with school, it could be more personal, we wanted them to write down what has been a high moment and what has been a low. I was amazed and also heartbroken with what my students shared. Amazed that they were willing to be so open and honest, heartbroken because life shouldn't be that hard for a 13 year old. I shared with them my pit and peak. My peak was seeing the tremendous growth and confidence they have made as writers. They can write long, they have things to say and have found a platform to showcase it. My pit being that I felt like I wasn't doing a good job at anything. That it wasn't one particular day or one particular moment, but that I felt stretched so thin that I just didn't think I was providing the type of education and environment that my students needed and at the same time letting down my children, family and friends. I cried, right there in front of my classes.
After I opened up not only to my students, but to myself I started to really see how these were my expectations. My students didn't feel as though I was doing a poor job, my children loved me, my family was proud of how I was juggling life, and my friends completely understood my current situation. I felt a deeper connection with my students because they really saw me and how much I care, and I felt a sense of calm knowing that I was doing my best. This is when I started to realize that I am the one who was causing that heavy feeling in my life, I was the reason for the feeling of panic as I drove to school each day. I needed to applaud my successes during this time in my life compared to nit-picking my faults.
This thought process has trickled over to my family and parenting. There are expectations of how my family should act and what they should be involved in, but we are different than our neighbors and friends. We have five children, ages 8, 6, 2, and twins that are 1, four of which are boys and one girl. My husband and I both work full time. Our life is different and I have to be reminded at times to give us some grace as we navigate this road. We may eat out a little more often then we should, allow our kids to eat more fruit snacks and popsicles then is recommended, be okay with an hour of extra screen time compared to the norm. But our home is overflowing with love and having five children is a blessing, these things out weigh the fact that we might not meet the expectations of our community every single day, secretly knowing these are the goals that I have for us. We can't be like everyone else and I have started to accept this fact and by doing so a weight has been lifted. I treasure what makes us a unique and there is an ease that comes with that understanding.
Until this chapter in my life I have never looked at expectations as anything other than a motivating factor in one's life. I also never considered that the expectations I thought others had of me were really the outcomes I wanted for myself. I have to remember that this is a journey, this is a moment in time where life feels like it's moving at lightening speed and I'm barely keeping up, so things won't be all put in place. It doesn't matter what progress I make today towards those expectations because tomorrow might be completely different, but as long as I capture the good in the day, as long as I'm willing to pause long enough to see that there were glimmers of greatness, I can be satisfied with that and proud of myself that those moments happened.
To be honest I was really nervous about hitting the "publish" button on this post. Only a few people know about my battle with postpartum depression and I had a fear of being judged, not meeting expectations (once again). A dear friend said to me, "if it's on your heart to share there must be a reason." So here I am sharing, because my heart tells me that someone needs to hear this. Someone might see these things in themselves and need to know that they are doing a wonderful job, it's okay that your arms can only reach so far, I am in the trenches with you.