Letting go of expectations

For no particular reason, today felt like a perfect day. E headed out early for a drama workshop, D got up later and was busy with the things that are occupying his mind right now—coding, watching a Catalan satire programme, learning Korean, some business ideas—passing the time until his activities start up again next week. C and I took our borrowed dog for a walk, and then she played in the garden with her friend. Amongst all that, I also managed to squeeze in some work. A mellow, free-flowing sort of a day. As I sit here this evening, I realise that not expecting my children to do anything in particular or be anything they are not, has rubbed off on me. This lack of expectation is deeply freeing.

Expectations are weighty things, and can break the back of even the most promising day. Often, when we have expectations of our children, we’re actually placing limits on all of us, fencing them and us into some desired outcome that we have established. Head down, blinkers on, along a path that may have little to do with the child’s real direction, and is likely to quash their own autonomy. And, of course, alongside unfulfilled expectations come a plethora of unwanted emotions, like disappointment, disapproval, anger, and frustration.

Many of the expectations we put on our children are no more than a projection of the expectations we feel ourselves as parents. Perhaps that is one of the biggest discoveries of unschooling. When we start to do things differently, and let go of outcomes we had been clinging to, we also have to let go of any conditioned idea of the perfect parent. I clearly remember trying to reconcile happy children in pyjamas playing Minecraft on a Tuesday morning with being a half-decent mother. The edginess I felt as the hours ticked by had little to do with my children’s wellbeing. They were thriving. But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I would be disapproved of. There is a powerful, accepted narrative about what children need, and whilst wanting to be approved of as a ‘good’ mother, this Tuesday morning clearly ran counter to that narrative. It didn’t matter that it was just us at home. No one was actually judging me and telling me I was negligent, but I didn’t need them to. I had their voices safely stored in my mind now as my own voice. If my angst had become too much and I’d asked my children to stop playing, this would have had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. But it’s all so enmeshed, it can be hard to pick apart.

So what happens when you stop expecting things to be a certain way? When you stop attempting to create specific outcomes for yourself and for your children. To me, it feels like a new space opening up. One that is creative, present, and filled with the potential of the unknown. Without the claustrophobia of expectations weighing us down, things are free to arise from this space. And, because you are not trying to shape anything, you never quite know what they will look like. This place is calm and grounded, but alive with possibility.

That critical voice still pops up from time to time, but I’m generally able to spot it before it triggers me into doing something just to silence it. Something that no one but my own ego is asking for. Time and confidence have been my main allies in the gradual quietening of this voice, as have other unschoolers, online and in real life.

It’s the evening, and E has gone to his room. He is tired from his workshop and I’ve just taken him a cup of tea. He is sitting on his bed, classifying his banknote collection and using Google Translate to figure out the date on an Afghan banknote. D and I have been chatting in the kitchen, and he has been sharing his ideas on social justice with me. Now, he’s helping C look something up online, but inspired by watching The Next Step, C decides we need some exercise instead, so we put on some music and dance for five minutes.

The evening hasn’t been entirely without tension. There are differing levels of sensory tolerance in the house, and what is fun for one person easily overwhelms another. But the desire to stay connected and peaceful has won the day, and their negotiations have ensured that everyone’s needs are met. Their satisfaction with the outcome and the happy hug that follows is the cherry on the top.

And now, it’s all quiet. Everyone is getting on with their own thing, and I feel like I would like to bottle up this evening and keep it, so I can breathe it in deeply on some future messier day. How easy life can flow if you’re not always worried about where it’s flowing to. I imagine how this might feel if I were to attempt to shape it, to mold it, to insist it were all done my way. I suspect that none of these little moments would have been allowed to rise. It occurs to me that it is all perfect simply because I am expecting nothing else of me.

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