Creating Realistic Expectations

Q: I consider myself a giving parent, but I purposely set limits when it comes to my children’s requests for material things. It doesn’t really seem to help, though, because the society around them is constantly asking for new gadgets, looking to buy the next model of this or that… and if they don’t get what they want, they feel deprived.

It is our teenagers who suffer the most from this mentality. If they don’t get into the school they want, they can be depressed for days. If they don’t get the part in the play they had their hearts set on, they are nearly inconsolable. I have learned that the happiest people are those with minimal expectations — but how can I explain this to my children? Whatever I say just doesn’t seem to sink in.

“But I just want this girl to be my best friend — the way it was before. Then things will be great!” my daughter said to me last week. I told her that no relationship is ever perfect and you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, but it didn’t help. Any advice on how to successfully convey this idea?

A: So much of a person’s responses to life, in any given situation, are connected to what his individual expectations are. If one expects that a beautiful house or a great job will be the answer to one’s problems, he or she will undoubtedly be disappointed. The same personality limitations that all humans possess will exist, with or without the desired acquisition. Having a caring person to share life with is a great brachah, but what are you expecting from this person — to change the scope of your universe?

The reality is that many people encounter experience after experience — and then become disappointed that this wasn’t the job that they had hoped for, or the relationship that they had envisioned. When a person speaks of realistic expectations, realistic can be idealistic, if one tempers one’s expectations.

Truly being samei’ach b’chelko is appreciating life from moment to moment. Having bitachon that gam zu l’tovah, this too is for the good, decreases anxiety and reduces frustration from day to day occurrences. So often what we worry about for days never occurs, and what we would never dream about occurs instead. A person has lower expectations if he has hakaras hatov for life’s small blessings. One will not put all his energy and hope in “the vacation” he hopes to have for two weeks out of the year if he appreciates the time he spent playing frisbee with his children, spontaneously, one afternoon. That joyful hour can be remembered more lovingly by the family than the two-week vacation that had daily rain (or daily family fighting).

A parent needs to verbally “frame” life’s experiences with appreciation when speaking to his children, acknowledging hashgachah pratis and the wonders of all that we see around us. This appreciation creates a most satisfied and happy human being. Such a person can laugh if something “goes wrong,” and quickly attempt to find a solution because, to begin with, he didn’t expect everything to always go perfectly. Parents need to be role models for the child, seeing the good in what appears to be deficient, in the present moment.

Harchavas hadaas (clarity of perception) can occur from undisturbed thoughts and enable one to focus on the task at hand. If one continually focuses on life’s limitations and not life’s possibilities, one then lacks clarity of vision, as feelings of sadness can become all-consuming. Through true hakaras hatov to Hashem, we will be in a better position to fulfill our own individual potential, on a daily basis.