It was about a week before I was to leave on an assignment to teach in France for two weeks. Initially my family was going to join me in Paris for one of the two weeks. I would teach in the mornings, and we would explore Paris together in the afternoons. It was going to be the perfect family vacation, until the school calendar was updated and it became clear that my stepson would not be able to join us. It didn’t make sense to have a family vacation without the whole family. So, I planned to go to France alone.  But the time to leave was drawing closer. My daughter was turning three in a few days. My father was admitted to the hospital for the third time in as many weeks, and I was worried.  On top of that taxes were due, deadlines were approaching, and my mother-in-law was coming to visit. I had no energy to orchestrate a birthday party. So, we decided to order pizza for my daughter’s class, and I’d make cupcakes as well. It felt like a cop out. My brother flew down to be with my father and help with some needed changes. I felt guilty that I wasn’t canceling the trip to help.

Admittedly, these are not big things since, for example, my husband and I have both kept our jobs through this shaky economy. We have a roof over our family’s head, food on the table, and clean water whenever we want it among other luxuries. But all the same, I felt that I was not living up to expectations, and I didn’t like it.

But did it really matter? It turns out that my daughter was very proud of the cupcakes we made together and had fun hosting her friends to pizza at school. She sat at the head of the table with a big grin on her face telling everyone that she put the sprinkles on the cupcakes. What was important to her was a good time with family, friends and, of course, cupcakes with sprinkles – not a highly planned event and a stressed out mom. My brother and father had a good time together and got far more done than I would have been able to do.  They didn’t need me around to get things done. As is often the case the expectations I had about being a parent and being a daughter weren’t realistic, helpful, or accurate. I’m not sure of the source of some of the expectations I hold, but I’m sure some of them aren’t worth holding onto.  And as I read in a recent blog from Kristen Howerton,  I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

There are many choices about how to parent, how to lead, how to work, and a wide swath of expectations we have of ourselves and others. Sometimes the simpler path, focusing on what really matters and will make a difference, is the better one.

What do you think?  How do you simplify and better manage the various aspects of your life? What are expectations you had of yourself or others that were helpful to let go of?

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