Managing expectations & making idealism work

A while a go I wrote about idealism, expectations, marriage & parenting. This is kind of part 2. Read “part 1” here.

Making idealism work is the tricky part of the equation, but even as a realist I value a bit of idealism. Appreciating what I have and managing unrealistic expectations allows me to be rationally idealistic - it allows me to look to the future with hope.


Managing the unreasonable expectations is key. As I move through life it’s easy to see what others have or do without expecting the same of myself. Understanding when I am having unrealistic expectations - of myself and my role as a parent, comparing myself to the images that other moms put out there - can free me from a lot of crazy-making thinking.

When I start thinking that others have seemingly perfect lives, have it all “together” can manage better than I can, I have to remind myself that what I am seeing is their public persona, not the reality. Other people certainly have struggles that I don’t see - debt, time constraints, relationship issues. Some may have benefits that I don’t have - wealth, full-time childcare, household help.  We have all made different choices, are working with different opportunities, and have different values. Appreciating what I have reminds me that my values are driving my decision making, and that I don’t have to “keep up” or “do it all”. It allows me to be thankful and at peace rather than feeling inadequate or unfortunate.


Creating a mission statement for my family and making it visible centers me in my decisions every day. When I make values-based decisions that put me “behind” - like choosing to save money, not go on vacation, not buy a brand new car or a house we can’t afford - having those reminders of my values makes me feel at peace with my decisions. I need that constant reminder, because I am constantly barraged by expectations of myself that are unrealistic.

My own brand of optimism comes from creating my core values, writing them down, looking at them, reminding myself that my daily decisions are influenced by and small steps toward the life I am trying to build. Instead of wondering how other people can be so far “ahead”, I can see my goals right on the wall in front of me and know that I am working toward them with intention.


Of course I am influenced by what I see around me - the media, friends, family, neighbors. But I have to create expectations that are in line with my values, my life and what i know about myself. I can create a culture of healthy and attainable optimism in my home by managing those expectations and having a constant visual reminder of where I am going - a touchstone - to assure myself that I am not falling behind but actually getting myself ahead.

What helps you make idealism work?


  1. Hi Megan,

    Great post.

    You are really right about the "public persona" vs true reality. You just never know all the factors that are hidden from you. For example, one of my friends (kind of young) has a fantasic car. If you did not know his situation, you'd think he was a spoiled brat. The truth is: his parents died a few years ago (within months of each other) and he inherited a little money. One of the things he bought was a new car. WOW--what a price he had to pay for that new car-- his parents are both deceased! but to the casual observer, it looks like my friend "has it all".
    A flight attendant I used to work with always seemed gruff. Turns out, her 4-yr-old was dying of leukemia. That sure explained a lot, and I treated her with much more compassion when I knew the truth.

    You can only focus on yourself, and be the best YOU you can be. You have to be grateful for what you have, esp. your health, job, family and relationships. Easier said than done, I know.

    It is hard to not compare yourself to other moms who "seem" to have it all together (then it turns out they are on all kinds of happy Prozac drugs, or they have a full-time nanny, or their mother-in-law takes the baby for 3 hours per day, etc). I am working on being more accepting of myself, and more accepting of my situation, and not setting unrealistic standards for myself (such as house being clean at all times). It is hard to let go of my way of life that I lived before kids. But it is like motherhood is an ocean, and before I was living on dry land. Now I am all wet and I don't even have a towel.


  2. Absolutely, MOV! I am so lucky to have health, enough money to get by, a small job that allows me to work at home, the ability to be home, my friends and family, enough food, clean water... the list goes on and on. And when I can focus on myself and my values and appreciate my position it makes the expectations so much more manageable.

    So my house is messy and I drive an old clunker and we're renting and I took a shower 3 days ago and haven't put makeup on in weeks. But I have made choices leading me here based on my values, and I like the choices I've made so I have to remind myself to appreciate the outcomes.

    I like to remember that although I may be up a creek without a paddle... at least we're in the boat, right? Or in your case we're soaking wet in the ocean, but at least we're swimming. (repeat, repeat)

    And thanks for the post-it word cloud mission statement idea, mine are right in our front hall on the photos my amazing friend John took of the bridge in our old neighborhood!


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