I was putting the finishing touches on the sweet potatoes when I realized that the Jell-O salad I’d made for dinner didn’t set. The rolls I’d made from scratch weren’t rising, and our youngest son was having a meltdown. Then my husband phoned to let me know he would be home late. My plan for a perfect evening was unraveling.
Many of us long to create the “perfect” family, but more often than not, we fall off the pedestal of our own expectations. We long for quiet, but children are naturally loud. We desire a neat home, but family life inevitably brings clutter.
Too often we set up our husband, our family and ourselves for failure. We have a fantasy picture in our mind of how our day or an event will unfold. When our expectation doesn’t play out, we find ourselves frustrated, disappointed and even angry.
Perfectionism isn’t healthy for us or our relationships. It feeds discontent. It fosters judgment. It causes us to compare our insides with other people’s outsides.
When we expect our kids to be perfect, we become a controlling mom. When we expect our husband to be perfect, we become a criticizing wife. When we expect ourselves to be perfect, we heap judgment on our failures and become our own worst enemy.
So how do we break the chains of unrealistic expectations? How do we get out from under the pressure of perfectionism? It all starts with grace.
God sees the best in us. His grace frees us from striving. It accepts. It heals. And more important, it equips us to give the gift of grace to one another.
Moving from disappointment to grace requires two shifts in perspective. First, we need to shift our perspective from who we think is in control (us) to who is really in control (God). When we trust that God knows what He’s doing, we become more flexible, especially when things don’t go as we planned.
The other perspective change is this: The moment in which we find ourselves is just as important as the moment we planned to be in. We need to embrace “what is” instead of dwelling on “what could have been.” When we allow God to lead and we embrace the moments we’re given, our hearts become compassionate and flexible.
A grace-filled mom handles her kids’ shortcomings with love. A grace-filled wife allows her husband to make mistakes without holding his failures against him. A grace-filled woman sees herself through God’s eyes and resists the temptation to beat herself up when she falls short of perfection. By moving away from unrealistic expectations, we crawl out from under the pressure of perfectionism.
Coming to grips with my unrealistic expectations of a perfect evening, I sat down with my kids to eat our imperfect meal. When my husband got home an hour later, he had dinner as we sat at the table talking together. Then we enjoyed ice cream sundaes with the kids (not a part of my original plan), and the evening was filled with laughter, love and grace.
Jill Savage is the founder of Hearts at Home and author of eight books, including No More Perfect Moms.