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Not Letting Expectations Steal My Joy

We recently had a beautiful family getaway to a nearby hotel. But I almost let my own expectations get in the way of my joy.

Setting expectations

I had spent hours searching for the perfect hotel. We rarely get away together as a family, but we knew it was the perfect remedy for how drained we had all been feeling. I knew it had to be beautiful and a little bougie, because that’s what feels restorative for my husband.

I’m the on-the-go, sightseeing type, in contrast with my husband, who puts the “stay” in staycation. We alternate on whose needs we cater to, and this time we were definitely going for restful vibes.

With that in mind, my only other requirement was a pool. Since we wouldn’t be out and about much, I imagined splashing around with the kids as a central feature of our time away. So I ordered a new swimsuit for my three-year-old son and super cute floaties for both kids: a classic flamingo for my six-year-old daughter, and an airplane complete with a steering wheel for my son. I went all out, y’all.

Perfection that wasn’t

And I found the perfect spot! A hotel with not only a pool, but a splash pad and water slide just for kids! I just knew it was gonna be – let’s use that word again – perfect. I definitely feel guilt over multi-tasking and not being present enough during the week, so in my mind, this getaway we were going to have all the fun.

All. Of. It.

My daughter had seen the photos of the hotel and kept asking, “when we get there, can we go straight to the pool??” So once we checked in, we changed clothes, used up all the breath in our lungs to blow up their floaties, and eagerly headed downstairs…and neither of them were feeling it. My son couldn’t care less. My daughter was overwhelmed by the number of people. No worries, I reasoned. We have two more days.

Saturday morning, the splash pad was empty, so I convinced my daughter to just walk in and take a look.

We got one tiny surprise splash from one bucket, laughed hard, and ran out, and that was it. We didn’t so much as dip a toe in the rest of the weekend.

Learning from past experiences

The old me would have been furious. I feel my emotions hard, and I know my disappointment would have turned into anger and been hard to shake.

Embarrassing story: I once had a whole temper tantrum (crying, foot stomping) after we had run across Disneyland to try to get a photo with the Zootopia characters. They cut off the line a minute or two before the narrow time window was supposed to end, and I was livid.

My daughter, a toddler at the time, who that whole trip was for, was unfazed. If only that had been enough for me. Instead, I let my deep need to check off every single box on my “fun” to-do list ruin a whole portion of my day.

Fast forward a few years later. You know what has helped me prioritize true enjoyment and connection over my image of what fun “should” look like? Parenting an autistic child.

Finding unexpected joy

I’ve realized I find so much more joy in his joy than I do in pursuing what I thought would be fun. Sifting through tiny rocks on the nature trail, chasing each other around giggling, and playing with the same toys over and over puts more pep in his step and sparkle in his eye than any elaborate plans I could make.

“Wait,” you’re saying, shocked. “You mean actually having fun together is more enjoyable than dreaming up and stubbornly pursuing hypothetically fun scenarios?”

Yup. I know. Mind = blown, right?

And, surprise surprise, that applies to both my kids.

Conquering expectations

So this weekend, we laughed a lot. We played a lot. We did crazy dances during Uno Dare and acted out hilarious “lie detector” skits during LIFE. We cuddled and played Roblox and got Happy Meals and built Legos and cuddled some more.

And even as we packed the unused floaties back into the van, I could genuinely say it was perfect.

I didn’t let my expectations steal my joy.

Until I tucked my daughter into bed on Sunday night, and her face looked as though she were about to confess to a heinous crime. Timidly, she said:

“Mama? I want to go to the pool now.”

Parenting. It’s a trip!

Ellie Hunja

Ellie is a writer, social worker, and mom of two who’s on a journey to cultivate a life of purpose, authenticity, and joy. She believes that empathy and vulnerability can change the world, and she writes about parenting, social justice, faith, mental health, embracing autism, and more at She loves to connect with other moms on Instagram at @elliehunja or Facebook @EllieHunjaWriter!

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