How to manage everyone’s expectations as a Dad

It’s a struggle to deal with everyone’s expectations and parent the way you want to. Here’s one dad’s story about this challenge.


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Picture this:

You’ve just been given the call up to the Aussie cricket team and off to the World Cup.

The coach said he expects you to just be yourself, and the skipper says he expects you to make some runs.

You’re out in the middle in your debut, knocking the ball around for a few runs. It’s all going pretty well until you call for a run and get halfway down the pitch to see that the other batter has concrete shoes and isn’t running.

And then…You hear the rattle of death….stumped…gone….back to the pavilion.

What happened? Why didn’t they run? Was he expecting something different?

The battle of expectations

How many times have you been stuck between the expectations of those around you since your kid was born?

Partners, in-laws, friends, family – everyone seems to have an opinion or expectation on what you should or shouldn’t do… and they all love to tell you about it.

If you’re like me, more often than not you let your opinion fall by the wayside to keep others happy.

And in doing so, you end up feeling pretty crap.

It’s that feeling of the batsman walking back to the pavilion thinking they were doing everything right, but apparently not according to everyone else.

Spinning Plates

Fatherhood for me has been a massive exercise in juggling the expectations of those around me.

It’s like the spinning plates analogy; you can only spin so many plates before they all come crashing down.

The pressure of listening or acting upon someone else’s thoughts or opinions can get pretty intense if you don’t speak up.

Here’s an example; During the birth of both our kids, my partner and I decided not to have anyone around. Not in the waiting room, and not in the delivery room.

We were given a below 5 per cent chance of having our first child naturally and the odds of the second were even slimmer.

We wanted to be able to manage this experience ourselves. And just in case we did get the natural births we wanted (which we did!), we hoped to savour those special moments for ourselves.

We thought, as parents, we should be able to have a small amount of time to just take it all in and share those moments together.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, not to everyone. Our decisions were met with a significant amount of disappointment and anger from those around us.

People expected they would be involved in certain things and in certain ways, so when they were told their expectations wouldn’t be met – we were right in the middle of a battle.

The emotional war zone

I really struggled with this.

Why couldn’t people just respect our choices and let us do this whole parenting thing the way we wanted to?

As dads, how do we deal with this?

In my experience, some of us snap, some of us recede into being super quiet…and very few of us are able to tackle this head-on without someone feeling hard done by.

When friends and family express their emotions, especially when they’re linked to expectations not being met, it can be a really difficult process.

Some are great at telling you what they want, and others try to let you know how they feel in more subtle, non-direct ways.

It’s all intense. It’s all confusing. And solving the problem usually requires sacrifice from either you or the other person.

So as dads, juggling the expectations of others, particularly when they don’t match our own, can take somewhat of a toll on us.

Losing the battle, winning the war

The underlying message in all of this  – and you might need to learn it the hard way – is that you can’t keep everyone happy and be the Dad you want to be at the same time.

If you try and meet everyone’s expectations you will end up compromising your own, which may or may not lead to something uglier.

Juggling too many expectations can make you feel isolated and helpless. So, as dads, we need to accept that we can’t please everyone. The more we try, the more damage we do to ourselves.

But at the same time, we can’t run away from others’ expectations.

To be the dads we want to be, it’s really important that we do address the expectations, thoughts or feelings thrown our way.

My advice?

Have honest, upfront conversations with the people on the receiving end and explain how and why you feel or think the way you do.

Addressing these things early prevents situations from getting bigger or uglier. Trust me, I’ve been there.