Managing Expectations

We had put a lot of effort into attending a paint splatter party at an art studio.  Since it was over an hours drive from our house we spent the night at Mike’s parents the night before to make the commute easier in the morning.  And the experience didn’t come cheap, around $40 for my kids to participate but I thought you can’t put a price on art and education.

I had visions of colourful paint splattered wall hangings gracing our walls at home.  Visions of my children giggling and hooting while they threw paint against a wall.

But when we got there Lan decided he did not want to do it.

He did not want to get his socks dirty.  I told him he could take his socks off and go barefoot.

He did not want to get his feet dirty. I told him he could wear his shoes if he didn’t mind getting paint on them.

He did not want to get his clothes dirty.  I told him I had specifically packed those clothes because they were clothes that could get ruined.

I tried manipulation.  I explained that this was costing me a lot of money.  I tried to make him see how much fun the other kids were having, and didn’t he want to have fun too?  I tried to make him feel bad so he would change his mind and participate.

I was pissed.  I told him I was mad.  I told him we were wasting money and we had made a lot of efforts to come here.

I sulked.

Then I had no choice but to accept, but I was not happy about it.

All day I reflected.  Was it right for me to be so pissed off that he refused to participate?  Should I have handled it differently?  What if I had just respected his choices instead of trying to manipulate him?

This parenting stuff if freaking hard.

Then at night, we were laying in bed talking.  I apologized for trying to push him.  I explained why I had gotten upset with him but I explained it to him without the intention of manipulation, just a ‘this is how mommy was feeling’ kind of explanation.  I asked him to explain to me what he was feeling.  He told me he did not want to get paint on him, he just wanted to watch the other kids doing it.

In the end it was money well spent.  I will still get something to hang on my wall because Kayden participated and I got a valuable lesson in parenting.

Being consumed by expectations will only lead to disappointment.  If I want my children to be independent thinkers I have to let them.  If I can just take a step out of my own head to listen to their feelings I will understand them and be able to support them.  Manipulation is not nice, it feels icky when people do it to me so why would I do it to my children?  Even though sometimes its hard, I have to respect their choices.

Have you ever been in a similar situation where your child’s choices did not jive with your expectations?  How did you handle it?

Related posts:


  1. Jen says:

    Thanks for writing this; I think it happens to most parents and certainly me. A few weeks ago I had a similar scenario skiing. My son did not want to go but we were already there with passes. He went and then I pushed it taking him somewhere I was unfamiliar with. It turned out to be harder than he wanted, he threw a fit and was done. I should have just listened to him or stayed in his comfort zone. We discussed it after, I apologized. We are back skiing this weekend…hopefully he will want to go but if not I’m not pushing it!

    1. worldschooled says:

      One of the things that has been helping me when I have these types of problems is asking myself how I would treat a friend who was doing this. Would I try to push them into doing something they did not want to do? Nope, I would respect it. But sometimes with your own child it is so hard!

  2. Renee says:

    Amy, I’ve had to deal with that a lot on the road. We’ve been to countless historical sights all over Europe, all amazing, but Scout’s become used to this and now balks at seeing “more ruins” or “more palaces.” In Greece she agreed to hike up a mountain to a wonderful Venetian fortress at the top. But when we got there, she refused to go inside the fortress. It was the hike she’d wanted.

    I was disappointed and felt like forcing her to go in. The place was really cool. But in the end I let her wait outside while her dad and I took turns going in. When I came out, I tried to entice her with descriptions of the dungeons and the views, but no dice.

    Sometimes I need to remind myself my daughter’s seeing so much on this trip that a few specific sights don’t matter at all. After all, I want to preserve the love of travel, not kill it outright. Also I think refusing to set foot in a place is a signal that something’s off balance and I need add a few more amusement parks or horse rides to the the mix.

    Forcing kids to do (non-essential) stuff just makes them hate it.

    1. worldschooled says:

      Wow Renee, I would have a hard time with that! Especially since you are half way around the world exploring something amazing! Kids sure experience the world differently than adults and I think that once we start traveling we will really have to work out a good balance of activities so the kids can stay engaged.

    2. Maria says:

      I sometimes wish my parents would do this… (I’m 17 and we’ve been seeing… a lot over the past year).

      I like traveling, I’m definitely coming back to most of these places later in my life… but at this point, I’m not interested in another museum filled with Ancient Greek pottery or any ruins, except for a choice few that one doesn’t see anywhere else. Like Egyptian pyramids (the mummies and things inside the pyramid, not so much).

  3. Christina @Interest-Led Learning says:

    It’s so hard to set aside my own expectations with my kids, especially if they’ve said they wanted something and then back down at the last minute (and it involved money, too!) My kids are still young, too, so I don’t know if it’s just an age thing, or if it’s something parents have to work through even when their children are older. I agree with Renee that forcing kids to do something will just make them hate it in the end. I try to remind myself of that. I’m glad you made the right choice in the end and didn’t push him to participate.

    1. worldschooled says:

      I think this is something for kids of any age although maybe happens more regularly when they are younger. I hope that next time it happens I am able to take a step back to remember this lesson!

  4. Lily says:

    Gosh yes, this is tough isn’t it? Letting our child/ren be who they are – wholly separate people with different moment by moment experiences of and interest in the world. Letting go of our expectations. It can be tough.

    Well done for getting the best out of the situation you found yourself in.

    1. worldschooled says:

      Thanks Lily. It is so hard to figure out how I want to parent. For me it is a lot of trial and error and examining my pre-conceived notions constantly.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I know exactly how you feel!! I have it happen alot, esp when Kaya was younger. She would never want to do anything we wanted to do, or if we had an activity for her she would not want to do it. It was a constant struggle. We are not radical unschoolers, but we are somewhat ‘liberal’ in our parenting, unless of course it is something she has to do. It is so hard figuring out what to do in these situations!!!

    1. worldschooled says:

      We are not radical unschoolers either. I like the term liberal parent! That describes us pretty well. We have rules but not a lot of them 🙂

      1. Elizabeth says:

        Exactly how we are!! Yeah, our rules are pretty basic and lenient. I am strict about no hitting and about her not eating anything that can make her sick…for example, when she eats ice cream, she gets sick from too much dairy, so we avoid it. People think I am super strict for doing that, as ‘it is only ice cream’ but if it makes her get ill, I don’t care. For some reason I get a lot of slack over it though….oh well.

  6. Michelle says:

    We deal with this ALL THE TIME! For us, it is usually an activity that my DS11 will tell me he wants to do, gets all excited about, but when the time actually comes, he doesn’t want to follow through. I am not sure if his expectations are different than what he sees when he gets in the actual situation, or what it is. He hasn’t been able to explain it to me either.
    The worst for us was a two day trip to Philadelphia. We tried to keep our plans low-key to avoid over-stimulation for all involved (especially me, crowd sensitivities!). We thought both of our boys would love the Franklin Institute because of all the hands-on exhibits. They wandered from room to room and barely touched a thing. After only 30 minutes they wanted to leave! I was frustrated and discouraged by the amount of money we had spent for the 4 of us.
    It is so easy to be annoyed when these things don’t work out. We expect our kids to love it and love us more for providing such great opportunities. In reality, my boys are happiest when I let them have free time to fill with their own imaginary play. Maybe we are trying too hard? No answers here…just a ‘I know how you feel.’

    1. worldschooled says:

      I think there is a greater level of frustration when money is involved, especially when our funds are limited. I wonder if I would have gotten so uptight if it was a free activity…

Leave a Reply to worldschooled Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>