Lowering the Bar on Motherhood and Raising Standards for My Children

Every so often, someone emails me to ask what I think the secret to marriage is.  Chris and I usually have a good chuckle, share a beer and laugh at how we have fooled everyone into being “experts,” and then finally sit in somber silence and stare into space as we realize that our marriage is built on a pretty crappy philosophy.  In all honesty, VERY seldom do I even give the real answer as an answer because I’m so embarrassed that Chris and I have adopted THIS as a foundational pillar of our marriage.  But, it works.

Our secret to a happy marriage?

Lower your expectations.

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That’s right, friends.  LOWER your expectations.  I think most of the time, people go into marriage expecting fairy tales and romance and sunsets and champagne.  And that’s fun for about the first month of marriage.  But, then the sparkle begins to chip away and the wedding dust settles and you’re left standing next to this incredibly flawed, incredibly HUMAN person.  I was SHOCKED to discover that Chris would not serve me breakfast in bed every Sunday morning.  What kind of animal had I married?!?!?!

But, about a year into marriage, I realized that if I took all expectations out of my marriage, we were actually pretty damn happy.  I no longer expected him to bring home flowers, to sit next to me and tell me how beautiful I was while I did laundry, or yearn to go grocery shopping with me on a Saturday morning.  And once I let go of those expectations, Chris became a STELLAR husband because when you marry a good person, they are going to exceed your expectations – whether you set them or not.  So, when he randomly showed up with flowers on a Tuesday night (…like, once a year), I am always blown away because FLOWERS!  So unexpected!  Or, when he offers to cook dinner so that I can write or read (or wrestle the kids into the bathtub), I am always so taken aback because THOUGHTFUL!  So unexpected!

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Now, many people will hear this philosophy and immediately think something like, “What a terrible way to live a marriage!”  But, to these nay-sayers, I say, “Give it a whirl!”  Lower your expectations and see what happens in your marriage.

A few weeks ago, there was this amazing article on parenting that went around Facebook.  It was about how we need to be parenting more like our parents parented us.  Which was basically to push us outside and tell us to, “Go play!”  As the author wrote, my entire childhood flashed before my eyes.  I remember my mom and dad kicking us out of the house on Saturday mornings, and we were only allowed back inside for mealtimes.  Ginny and I roamed our neighborhood with a small army of kids our age, playing in creeks, riding bikes, in our backyard, in trees, in drainage sewers (gross, yes, but SUPER AWESOME for a ten-year-old kid), on swingsets, in cul-de-sacs, in parks, at the community pool, in tree houses, in forts, in driveways, in bushes.  There was no where that was off limits.  And our imagination was unlimited.

If I fell down, my mom didn’t know about it until I wandered home around dinner time. So, I learned to pick myself up and dust myself off.  If a friend and I got into a squabble, my mom wasn’t there to help us work it out with “kind words” or “listening ears.”  We just learned that no one would play with you if you weren’t nice.  If a bike chain broke, our dads weren’t standing there next to us to fix the bike and help us get back moving again.  We learned instead how to flip that bike over and fix the darn chain ourselves.

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The Facebook article reminded me that some of the best experiences of my childhood happened BECAUSE my parents weren’t involved.

Now, was my mom at all my softball games and Student Government activities and Girl Scout meetings?  Abso-bloomin-lutely.  She was room mom (which basically meant she sent homemade cupcakes to school once or twice a year), team mom, and on the PTA, too.  And so was my dad.  I can remember him twirling in the kitchen with me as I practiced ballet for years and, of course, he taught me to play golf.  But it was a very different type of parenting than what I see today.  It’s different than what I do myself.

In the past few weeks, though, I have heard conversations pop up in my own circle of friends and in social media outlets about how maybe we need a little more of this “old school” parenting in our lives.  And I, for one, whole heartedly agree.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as the trend in parenting has evolved into creating entire lives and worlds around our children, so, too, has the divorce rate risen astronomically.  Because, if all of your money, attention, and time is dedicated to your kids, where do our marriages fall?  When is there time for your spouse?  Or, heaven-forbid, YOURSELF?

That’s why Chris and I are taking our marriage philosophy and making it our parenting philosophy, too.  It’s time we lowered our expectations as parents.  I cannot attend 14,000 birthday parties, 3,000 play dates, 200 “family dinners”, baseball practice, baseball games, swimming lessons, ballet, AND church on Sunday mornings in one weekend.  I just can’t do it.  It’s expensive, time consuming, and at the end of the day, our kids go to bed worn out and satisfied, but Chris and I are left sitting exhausted on the couch at night, staring at the TV because we have no energy left to give to anything that WE would like to do.  We’ve given the best of ourselves to our children.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love having an active family.  I love having a place to go, something to do, an activity, or an outing.  I drag my family to theme parks and playgrounds and splash pads 9 times out of 10 because I want to get out of the house more than them.  And I probably won’t stop doing that.  But, if I am going 90 miles an hour just to keep up with the Jones?  Screw that, man.  The Jones are probably miserable.  Why would I keep up with them?

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So, here is what I’ve started doing.  It’s my baby step.  I’ve stopped entertaining my children at home when I don’t want to or when I’m busy.  If Gracie comes up to me and wants me to stop what I’m doing to fix her toy so that it can play “Let It Go” for the 481st time that day, I’ve started saying no.  Actually, I say, “If you can’t fix it, then you need to find something else to play with.”  Or, if we’re out somewhere they don’t want to be, like Ikea or Home Depot, and the kids are complaining and whining, I tell them to pipe down and deal.  Actually, I say, “Then, drive yourself home,” and they laugh.

And I laugh.

And they laugh nervously.

And I keep shopping.

And they stop laughing.

And, you know what?  THAT’S OKAY WITH ME.

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Today is a very different world to raise children in than when I was little.  I can’t kick my kids outside all day because the world just isn’t the same anymore.  But, I can start remembering the importance of independence and self-sufficiency, and I can take steps to bring those things to my kids life by lowering my expectations of parenthood.

As I write this post, it is Saturday before Easter and my Facebook wall is full of good moms dyeing Easter eggs with their kids, out at Easter egg hunts, visiting the Easter bunny, and just generally being awesome.  And, honestly, my first instinct when I see these pictures is, “GIVE ME A DOZEN EGGS AND VINEGAR BEFORE I RUIN MY CHILDREN’S LIVES!”  But, when I stop and think about it, my kids didn’t even enjoy dyeing eggs last year.  In fact, my friend Danielle and I ended up sitting at a kiddie table, dyeing a dozen eggs ourselves while our kids chased each other in the backyard.

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Why would I do that again?  Because Mrs. Jones has posted another perfect picture of her brood in matching, embroidered outfits she had made specifically for the day before Easter?  Pa-shaw. What I SHOULD do is ask her to add my kid to her monogram order and then just send Bean and Gracie over there to dye eggs.  I’m sure she’d send me pictures.

I’m lowering my expectations of motherhood.  Will some call me a slacker?  I’m sure.  Will there be people who read this and think, “SHE DIDN’T TAKE HER CHILDREN TO SEE THE EASTER BUNNY?!?!??!  WHAT KIND OF MOTHER DOESN’T TAKER HER KID TO SEE THE EASTER BUNNY?!?!?!?!”  And I’m sure my kids will be a little pissy at first with all this new “independence” nonsense.  But, here’s the thing…

Come closer.  I don’t want to say this too loudly on the internets or else people will throw imaginary tomatoes at me.  

I DON’T WANT TO RAISE HELPLESS, SPOILED, ENTITLED, SNOTTY, INCAPABLE CHILDREN.  And as a middle school teacher, let me tell you that the surefire way to raise children like that is to constantly entertain them.  Constantly provide for them.  Constantly “be there” for them.  Sometimes, kids need to feel a little uncertain.  Sometimes, they need to solve a problem for themselves.  Sometimes, they need to not get their way.  Sometimes, they need to wait.  Sometimes, they need to do things that are not “kid-friendly.”  Because do I want to raise a fragile, rare flower who only blossoms and grows when the sunlight, water, and temperature are exactly perfect?

Hell no!  I want to raise WILDFLOWERS!!!  I want to raise a kid who can grow anywhere!  Who can bloom when nothing else around them does!  I want to raise a kid who can rise up in between the cracks in the sidewalks!  Hothouse flowers are overrated.  Grow yourself an independent, bold, beautiful wildflower!

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I don’t want to raise children in a world that revolves around them because when they are not children anymore, the world most definitely will not revolve around them.  And what kind of cruelty is that for me to push them out into that world without any preparation?  So, I’m prepping them now:

Go play.

Read that book yourself.

Fix that toy on your own.

Find something to do.

Get your own crayons out.

Work it out between the two of you.

Be happy about it, or go do something else.

And, you know what?  I feel really good about it.

 

 

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52 Thoughts to “Lowering the Bar on Motherhood and Raising Standards for My Children”

  1. Amen. I love everything about this.

  2. Chrissy H.

    Love this and no worries I didn’t take mine to see the bunny either.. 🙂

  3. Jen

    I can sum up my response with a virtual high five. You nailed it. I’ve stopped comparing my kid with others. He’s never seen the Easter bunny and also never liked coloring eggs. He’s a happy normal kid without doing every darn thing possible. Rock on, Katie!

  4. Jody

    Amen. Seriously, this has been my mantra since giving birth (or adopting) my babes and it’s worked wonders for my hectic life. When crap hits the fan it’s much easier to drop absolutely nothing than 3 playdates, 14 birthday parties and a major holiday. Now, my 7 y/o carries his own hockey bag into hockey and mostly dresses himself while we see 10 y/os standing around waiting for their mommies to put their equipment on. Self-sufficient kids FTW!

  5. Sarah S

    i call this method of parenting “benign neglect” and it is wonderful. Been doing it for about 5 years now and I have a 9 year old who has been capable of staying home by herself and with her brother for over a year now and two kids with good manners, who write thank you notes, play great together and help around the house. Never going to do it differently!

  6. Shannon

    Love this, you are so right!

  7. Sarah H.

    Love! Never taken mine to see the bunny OR Santa! They would just cry anyway. Since mine are still 1 and 3 I can’t do this parenting yet, but I like it!!! Go Katie go!

  8. Stephanie

    This is amazing! I am so sharing this post to all those crazy Mrs.Jones I know! Ufaaa

  9. Amen!! My son hadn’t felt great at the end of last week and I knew I’d set him up for epic failure if we went to a big Easter egg hunt. I disappointed a friend but chose to instead take him to watch his daddy ride in a bicycle race. No Easter egg hunt, no picture with the Easter bunny. He played with sticks, dirt and rocks at a state park and you know what? He had more fun entertaining himself or riding his own bicycle than he would have at the hunt. Mommy win!! Love this post Katie!

  10. Guess what? my kid did not see the Easter Bunny and the only egg hunt he had was the one at daycare.. THE WORLD DID NOT END!! I totally agree with you and I am very happy to see someone else wants their kids to be wildflowers or four wheel drive like I say! Way to go Katie! Way to go!

  11. My mantra has always been “expectation management”. Everything can be better if you just properly manage your expectations! As for the second part, as the mom of a new baby I’m just starting to explore the world of staying focused on marriage vs kids, some great advice here!

  12. You are wise. My secret to marriage, for 30 years, is put one foot in front of the other every day.

  13. Jess C

    One of the things I am most proud of about E is that at 4.3 she can play by herself. Well said!

  14. Jacquelyn

    This! is exactly what I needed today. I am so that kind of Mom and social media has been messing with my “Mama confidence” with all the perfect Easter activity things.

    Thank you Katie!!! This! is it. You nailed it.

  15. Bonnie B.

    Yep, wonderful stuff! And there is nothing wrong with (and everything RIGHT with) your kids seeing mom and dad enjoying themselves together and not dropping everything to tend to their little needs. It creates that “united front” when they see you as a team and an entity separate from them and (I’m sorry) more important than them sometimes. You go girl.

  16. jenn

    Absolutely! I’m on a message board of moms who all had babies in the same month. We were discussing birthday party plans and themes and smash cakes. I can’t remember any theme I had for a birthday unless you count “sleepover”. You wanna know what I did for her first birthday? Called my family two weeks beforehand, picked up a couple deli platters and made cupcakes. Heck out a lot less stress. I don’t think she’s suffering or complaining to anyone.

  17. Bean, Gracie, Tillman and Baby Faith's Nana

    I think you’ve discovered a beautiful way of parenting, Katie. The times certainly have changed since you and your sister were children. But you can still find ways to create independence for your children and still keep them safe and protected. The other side of cutting yourself some slack is that Beanie and Gracie learn to resolve issues through their own ingenuity, the kids gain confidence and become quite proud of the tasks they learn to do my themselves and the creativity that you’ll see develop in them because they have been given room to experiment will amaze you! Good for you and Chris. Everyone wins…..especially your kids!

  18. Lindsey

    This is one of my favorite posts you’ve ever written. The ‘wildflower’ analogy is perfect!

  19. As it relates to parenting, I used to feel guilty for always being like this with my children..go read a book, i’m not the entertainment committee; you will not scream in the store; etc…only to find out thank God I was doing something right; some folks would look at me with side eyes and call me Mean…gasp!!!..I also knew because I saw that my children were resilient and creative…so call it what you want…but i never bought in to this new fangled way of parenting where everything revolves around the child.
    lowering expectations works great in marriage – its the way to stay happy and sane.

  20. As I posted on that “other” article, Hear, hear!!! I am happy to see you take the reigns and set your own standards, even if that involves “lowering” them.
    You will not regret that, and I’ll tell you a little secret: nothing sexier than knowing your own mind.
    Man I loved my 30’s. I’m loving yours, too. You go, girl. 😀

  21. Aileen

    That was just perfect. I agree with everything you said 100%, especially about the parenting styles and advice for raising kids lately. Can I get an A. MEN.

  22. Erin R.

    Katie this is one of my favorite posts of yours!

  23. Whitney M.

    Awesome point of view! Really enjoyed your post!

  24. HeatherM

    my mom’s parenting motto was “deal with it.” It’s a great response to pretty much any complaint. If we complained we were bored, her response was “My job is to feed you and clothe you, NOT to entertain you. That is your job.” When did we (as a society) decide it was now mothers’ jobs to entertain kids too- as if we don’t already do enough.
    By the way my hubby was raised as more of a gentle flower, and he hears “deal with it” from me probably once a day- even if I do try to sugar coat it 🙂

  25. Suzanne

    Katie, AMEN!! This is possibly the best post you’ve ever written and I could not agree more! So well said. We grew up in a different era and I think we turned out okay.

  26. Katie N

    As always, it’s so refreshing to hear you voice what I believe to be true as well. THANK YOU for writing the truth! You are not alone, as I too hope my little(s) turn out to be self-sufficient, kind, capable, generous, perceptive individuals unlike many of the kiddos we see today.

  27. Casey

    AMEN! This should be broadcast into the homes of every parent in the country!!

  28. Janet

    Katie-this has obviously become a classic. I’ll bet it gets re-aired once a year and more power to you. Thanks for the insights.

  29. Kris Flanders

    YOU GO GIRL!!! Amen and Amen!!!

  30. Maren

    Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    For the record, I have ONE (1) picture of my 15 year old with Santa (and zero with the Easter Bunny). He was about 7-8 and wearing a Halloween shirt. I don’t regret not having 15 years worth of Easter Bunny/Santa pictures. And I’m sure I won’t regret it with my 2 year old either.

  31. Peggy

    Excellent advise! My kids are in their 20’s and are perfect examples of WILDFLOWERS!

  32. Tj

    I adopted the “lower my expectations” on my marriage a couple years ago and it’s so true! I am so much happier and for that, my husband is as well. I realized that although my husband might not do anything special on Valentine’s Day, I’m ok with it because he is a great husband and partner all 365 days of the year. I am a new mom, well somewhat, she’s 16mo. And a stay-at-home mom. So I have found myself keeping myself busy and making her my world. So reading your advice on the parenting was great! Enough so that it’s eliciting this response from me, which I never do! It’s nice to hear and good to know its ok to take care of my husband and/or myself sometimes!

  33. I freaking love this! I was planning to dye eggs with my kids this year (because we never have), but then I was like, they’re only 3 and 1. They are either going to make a giant mess or they won’t even like doing it. Most of the time, I am like you and I drag my family out to do things because it’s what I want to do. But it’s good to just sit back and let them entertain themselves as well.

  34. Jen

    I have stopped reading so many blogs I once enjoyed because they have become nothing but “look at my perfect children in their monogrammed outfits doing some cliché activity so that I can blog/instagram it.” This post sums up why I still love reading MC. Your authenticity is so refreshing! I hope to be a mom just like you!

  35. Lauren G

    I love this! Thank you so much for the wise words. I am pregnant with my first and honestly it is the Pinterest world of modern parenting that scares me more than anything. I have the same memories of playing outside non-stop with my friends. I know the world is different now but I hope that I can accomplish something similar to what my parents did with me. As another commenter said, I love your blog because you are so genuine and NORMAL. Those other blogs of perfectly coordinated and orchestrated events do not appeal to me!!

  36. Tabs

    Freakin’ Preach It Sister!!!

  37. Amen and amen. Go you go mama. Love this. And agree with it all! I’m going to lower my expectations too. =)

  38. deannab1

    We have a very similar philosophy, my husband jokingly refers to it as “free range parenting”.

  39. Sandra

    I don’t have children but I have worked in the schools for 10 years. High schoolers for the last five. Needless to say, I will be printing out a copy of this and handing it out to all parents. But sincerely, I resonated so much with this post that my heart swelled. Thank you.

  40. Kristie P

    I LOVE this!! I try to do this too, although I never thought about applying this philosophy to my marriage too. The “free range” parenting style works for teens too. My daughter has been learning to drive, and when she’s with me, I expect her to be able to figure out where she’s going and how to get there.

  41. Rachel

    Awesome post! This is my favorite line “Screw that, man. The Jones are probably miserable. Why would I keep up with them?” because it is the truth! =)

  42. Sarah

    Your best post ever!

  43. Hilary

    I think we are seeing the effects of helicopter parents who created kids that can’t even wipe their own noses at 18. I’m only glad our generation has recognized this in time to stem the insanity! I just finished listening to Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed” and it’s all about hard work, perseverance, overcoming disappointment, dealing with failure, and accepting challenges. You know which kids can do that? The ones who are expected to. That means letting them get a little banged up, learn how to lose and win, as well as keep at something even if it means they get grumpy. My seven-year-old told me today that if I was so adamant that her homework get done, then I should do it myself. I laughed, sat down beside her, and made her complete two math worksheets and her spelling sentences. And because I’m an English teacher, I made her correct every error in capitalization or spelling, no matter how many eye rolls I got.

  44. jenny_bird

    Love it.

  45. Megan

    I just loved this! You put into words how I’ve felt about raising my almost 2 year old and it feels so nice to know so many other parents out there feel the same way! So awesome!!

  46. Erin Bourg Jones

    This makes me so unbelievably happy!! The flood gates of memories are flowing! Playing baseball in the cul de sac and praying the ball didn’t go down the drain. I swear once we actually tried to put Ginny down there to get one! Haha! Those creeks were a labyrinth of fun.

  47. Katt

    I always love reading your blog. You’re so real and so honest. I truly appreciate that. 🙂

  48. […] My imaginary friends blew up the internet with this post I wrote earlier this week. Thank you so much for your support, encouragement, and feedback. It […]

  49. Amanda H

    YES!!!!! This was so well written, so honest and so true!!! I’ve been the lowered bar mom and I get looked at but, who cares. My son is not entitled or snotty or spoiled. He can entertain himself and if he ate a lot of sand as a kid??? Didn’t seem to matter. 😉
    Let them live and watch them grow.

  50. Sad that I missed this when it ran. I LOVE this. Love love love it. I completely agree; especially because we have twins, my number one tip for everything parenting related is also to lower your bar. 🙂 I am grateful that you decided to publish it in this age of everything-must-be-Pinterest-perfect. So THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts on this!

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