I walked into my sons' shared room, awkwardly carrying a basket overflowing with fresh-smelling, newly-laundered clothing. As I gingerly stepped through the makeshift obstacle course which this time included a truck, two books, and some unidentifiable, crumpled shirt, I must admit a bit of a frustrated mama-growl. "BOYS! Why is this room such a mess?" I hollered into empty space. The summoned boys didn't answer, as I realized they were probably playing happily in the back yard, having escaped my instruction to pick up first while I was emptying the dryer.
Frustrated and feeling a bit of a failure as I looked about the messy room, I thumped the basket down on the bed and plopped my tired self beside it. "Lord, why? I've told them and told them. They're still not putting their things away! What's wrong?"
It was one of those times when the answer came swiftly ... "Well, they haven't learned yet. That's why you have about fourteen more years with them." The lesson was further driven home when I sighed, went to the back door and called the boys in to pick up, and then made my way to my own bedroom ... with its basket of clothes needing folding, rumpled comforter, and books and magazines, coffee mug, and pens strewn about on every flat surface.
As Christian moms, we have high expectations for our children--as well as for ourselves. In fact, we probably have pretty high expectations for everything and everyone and every situation around us. We've trusted ourselves to Christ. We've given our children to Him. We're in touch with His voice and what He has to say in His Word and we've probably heard eighteen tons of advice about how we should behave as moms, and how our children should respond in return.
There are, of course, a few problems with this scenario. You see ... we've been set up.
It's a very good thing to have ideals for our children. In a world filled with compromise and false "tolerance," families must aim high. God is forming Christ in us and in our children. We are meant to give them a vision for pure living, hard work, perseverance, kindness, and all that goes with maturity as we follow Christ together.
So here's where I think we get in trouble: we have a tendency to forget that all of us are in process, and that process is not complete yet.
Some of you cringed when you read the title of this piece. The very idea of lowering your expectations goes against all you're striving to accomplish. So let me clarify (if it's still necessary) that I'm not talking about lowering your standards or goals. I'm talking about lowering what you *expect.*
For example, my goal is for my children's rooms to be clean. To that end, I've helped them clean, shown them efficient ways to get the job done, and remind them pretty regularly that it's time to work toward that end. My ideal is that they would keep their things neatly in the drawers, on the shelves, and out from under their beds.
Now, if that goal and ideal were also my expectation, I would find myself angry quite regularly. And so, eight children into this job of mamahood, I've realized that while my goal is for them to keep their room neat without my intervention, my expectation is something else. My expectation is that my six year old will forget, and I will have to remind him. My expectation is that my thirteen year old, who is learning to overcome laziness, will not do a great job the first time, and I will need to go in and point out what needs to be done to complete the process. My expectation is that my teen boys, who just (still!) don't seem to care as much as I do about clean rooms, will need to spend a few hours beating their messy room back into submission once in awhile.
Why? Because my children are human. They are not Pavlov's dogs, who can be trained by appropriate words being spoken and treats or punishments being handed out. They experience distraction and laziness and sickness and ... well, humanity.
Guess what? So do I! And God holds a high standard for me, too; He doesn't just leave me to be a mess without instruction and guidance. But He does not expect perfection from me, either. He is "mindful that I am but dust" (Psalm 103:14). I am so grateful that His expectation is that I will take some work, will take some time, will take some reminding, will take some patience.
May we be reminded of that patience and understanding as we set expectations for our children and ourselves. And may that change draw the sting of anger out of our homes.