It’s very simple. It’s so simple, you probably won’t like it. But regardless of how we feel about it, in my experience it’s extremely true. Are you ready to hear the secret to how to be happy whilst raising a young family? Here goes:
Lower your expectations.
I know, it sounds like every moron’s motto, ‘I expect things to be a let down, that way I’m never disappointed’, which is quite a cynical way of living and is mostly conducive to perennial disappointment rather than its absence. And it will stop you from getting invited to any parties.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I am referring to doing things well, doing them to the best of our ability. What does that have to do with lowering your expectations? Well, it all depends on whether we know the true meaning of doing things well.
Doing things well doesn’t mean doing things perfectly. It doesn’t even mean doing things successfully– whether or not we manage something has no relation to whether we are doing it well. Sometimes we manage something even though we are distracted or disinterested in it, because we have a natural aptitude for it so the task doesn’t demand much of us. Sometimes we don’t manage something because it’s the kind of thing that requires repeated attempts, the kind of thing that is only ever achieved gradually, over the long-term.
I know this difference well because I’ve spent my whole life being ‘good at school’ without ever studying well. Not because I’m a genius, but because I find it easy to bluff and cram, which has nothing to do with intelligence levels but which is highly rewarded in most academic systems – sometimes it’s even rewarded more than application, discipline and long-term learning. But just because I got good grades, does that mean I learned a lot about the subjects I qualified in? Does it mean I organised my time well? Does it mean I was seriously committed to each task? No, I only learned to do all those things as an adult, once school was over and life demanded it of me.
And I am still learning every day how to do things well. It requires commitment (long-term), discipline, resilience, and openness of heart. This last part is the one most closely linked to lowering your expectations.
Why does lowering your expectations mean you open your heart? Because expectations are linked to control: you don’t want a happy family, you want a specific image of a happy family. You want happiness to come in a form you readily recognise, perhaps the happiness you knew as a child, or the type you’ve observed in a friend’s family, or the kind captured in a Christmas advert. That’s not happiness, that’s a mirage – it’s short-lived, it’s an image, and, most importantly, it’s not real.
When you lower your expectations you let go of false ideals. When you accept that today might not feature one, two or more well-behaved children; it may not include a husband who comments on how radiantly beautiful you look after having cleaned the whole house, it may not have a single moment of fun – you may be working thanklessly from dawn til dusk in fact (any mum who hasn’t had a day like this, please tell me your secret). When you accept that you might shout at your kids, argue with your husband, cry, you might not have time to brush your hair, you might be stuck at a pointlessly long meeting, you might cook a crappy dinner – or run out of time to cook altogether – you take the first step towards happiness: you relinquish control.
When you relinquish control, two things naturally follow.
1. You feel the pressure ease. If you’re not in control, it’s not your responsibility. You accept that there are many things (dare I say it, all things) that are simply not down to you. All you can do is show up and be willing to keep trying when the going gets tough.
2. You ask for help. Feeling we ‘burden’ others by asking for help is in fact a type of pride. It sounds like it’s us being selfless, but in fact we are refusing to humble our selves before others: we are ‘doing it all’ so that we don’t have to become reliant on others. And that breeds competition and isolation – which are definitely not conducive to happiness.
So there you have it: lower your expectations, and ask for help. You’ll see the difference!