If your life is like it is for most of us, you’ve had to face disappointments over summer vacations. The vacation of your dreams was all planned, but the reality wasn’t gracious enough to match it.
How is it that the weather always gets worse when it’s your vacation time? Or you catch a cold and spend your long-awaited trip caring for sick children. Maybe what happened was that the children didn’t want to go anywhere in the first place and the precious family time was mostly spent on listening to the quarreling from the back seat, and when you got to your destination, the kids kept whining about when you’re going to go back home.
You might have ended up counting days to when you can get back to work and rest. And still the next summer you end up loading your vacation full of expectations, imagining that next year will be different. But how do you actually get there?
The conflict between expectations and reality
My eldest child is unbelievably skilled with computers. He’s endlessly curious and patient with learning scripting and coding to carry out all the great visions he has around gaming and his imaginary worlds. Not surprisingly, he’d prefer to spend most of his summer vacation on the computer as well. And I’m sure you can guess what my opinion of that is as a mother.
When I think about children on summer vacation, I picture them running around the neighborhood with scraped knees, climbing trees and coming back home eyes shining to tell about their adventures. And as the mother I would pack their bags full of lunch and treats, wave at the door and remind them gently to come back home well in time for bed.
Granted, these visions more resemble the adventures of the Famous Five than any reality that exists around here. And that’s the thing: Disappointment and other emotional baggage around it is basically always about the conflict between expectations and reality. When the expectations don’t come true they way we wanted them to, we unavoidably end up on a collision course with reality.
But how do some people get over these collisions with a shrug or even with a laugh?
Value judgments behind the expectations
When I’m worried about the time my kid spends on the computer, it’s not just about the simple fact that he’s gaming or coding. It’s really about if it’s good for him.
What should he do to keep healthy and grow up balanced and happy? What should I do to enable a healthy and balanced life for him? What kind of a mother am I, if I can’t get my child to spend time outdoors? Am I ruining his future? What will people think of me?
And here we go – we’re in my own issues and pain points. Insecurities around parenting, vague threats about the future and the way I’m being seen by others. Do I fill the expectations of the society, am I living the way I should be and what’s expected of me? What about my kid?
The problem with the expectations is not about the expectations themselves – we need goals and expectations for a fulfilling life. But if we load the expectations with value judgments, for example about out own self-worth or happiness, it’s immediately more difficult to tolerate a reality that differs from the expectations.
As long as I consider the time my kid spends on the computer simply as a way to spend time just like any other, without attaching a value judgment on it, it’s easier for me to actively offer other ways to spend time, such as shared swimming trips and hikes in the woods. And when I don’t start the conversations already resentful because of my inner dialogue, it’s easier for him to accept my suggestions.
How to face your own disappointments
First of all, it’s good to assume a gentle and empathetic attitude to your disappointments and other negative emotions. You can give yourself a permission to feel all your emotions, and talk to yourself like a (fictional) perfectly gentle mother figure would speak. Remind yourself, that everything will be okay, and admit that it really does hurt right now.
Secondly, try to face the current reality neutrally, because resisting it you will only end up being more miserable. A wise friend of mine once said they always keep telling themselves “It’s just how it is” when the reality starts giving them a headache. It’s just how it is right now. In a few moments it will be different.
Finally, after you’ve reached a calmer state of mind, consider the value judgments behind the disappointment. Can you recognize thoughts that aren’t actually really relevant here? Something that’s based on old fears? Thoughts that are created by the negative mind? Whatever you find, accept those thoughts gently as well: Simply observing and being aware of your thought process is often enough to initiate a change.
What about the dream vacation?
When you use these methods to get to the roots of your disappointment, you’ll probably notice that the dream vacation is not that much about what it outwardly looks like. Your own attitude will get you far, and it is possible to change it.
Do make sure though, that you don’t end up imagining that a flexible and positive attitude will bend the reality to your will after all. Sometimes, when my kid is really not into going outside, I decide to join him in the world of Minecraft. Several hours may go by, and that’s totally okay, no matter how beautiful the day might be. The trees will still be there to climb another day, and spending time together is what really matters to me in the end.