The Power and Freedom of Realistic Expectations
I spend a lot of time with young moms. Heck, with 8 kids, I was a young mom until last year. Or so. When they tell me their deeply felt frustrations with the day-to-day management of children, the squeeze of time to maintain a healthy relationship with husband, and the things they want to do, I get it. Really, I do.
They also tenderly tell me about the conflict in their marriages, with their sisters, with their toddlers, with their mothers-in-law. They share their hurt feelings, their frustrations, and their desire that things could have gone differently than they did.
"It was my birthday, for cryin' out loud! Why didn't he think to get a babysitter?"
"She knows how important clean eating is to our family. Why would she feed the kids cookies from a box and let them drink soda, to boot?"
"I had planned a day at the park but it all got taken away when he told me he needed the van. Why couldn't he have remembered to tell me sooner?"
I'm going to say something here that might not be very popular:
I think we all need to lower our expectations.
Are any of the above statements unreasonable? No. Do those moms have a right to feel disappointed? Sure. And yet, how could their contentment with what God had crafted for them in those moments be unshaken if their expectations were at ground level?
At 45, I'm still slowly learning that God's ways are best. I could say it to anyone around me, "Oh, trust God, friend! His ways are best!" but when it comes right down to me, I doubt him faster than I can even gather my thoughts on the subject.
22 years into cleaning up after other people, wiping noses, clipping little boy fingernails, and dubious character training (that's the child-rearing stuff) plus relationship bungles, family tension, writing-related disappointments, and financial hurdles (that's the life stuff) and I can say that I have learned one thing, and only one thing, well: keep your expectations low.
Know what happens when you do? Everything is a bonus! Everything is fabulous! Everything feels like a gift!
Let's go back and reframe the disappointments in the context of low (or no) expectations of others and what they can do for us:
"It's my birthday! Even if no one else remembers, I know that God does and I'll celebrate with him. In fact, I'll make myself a bowl of ice cream right now!"
"I'm so glad we've chosen to eat such healthy foods. Now when the kids are at her house, it's not like we eat that kind of junk food every day. They'll enjoy it once and then we can move on."
"Wow, I'm so disappointed that I couldn't take the kids to the park. I need to tell him that I'd really appreciate it if he could remember to let me know sooner next time, but for today, I'm going to turn lemons into lemonade. Literally. Hey kids! Let's make lemonade!"
You know, that first one isn't too far from my own story. As a summer birthday girl, my day was never celebrated by my classmates or youth group friends because it was summer break. As an adult, of course, life doesn't stop on our birthdays, either. Most people forget unless Facebook prompts them.
It made me grumpy to wake up to demanding kids on my birthday, wanting to know what's for breakfast or asking if I would do any number of things for them that day. MY day. My birthday, for cryin' out loud!
And then one year an older friend of mine invited us all over for breakfast ice cream sundaes on her birthday and I thought, YES. I adore ice cream. I could live on ice cream. So why not start a tradition of ice cream sundaes for breakfast on my birthday every year? Not just ice cream sundaes, the best of the best ice cream, toppings, and fresh whipped cream, too.
I changed my expectations for the day, took charge over what I thought other people "should" be doing for me, and turned around to create a breakfast birthday party that we all look forward to every July. I learned that expecting others to think of me first invites self pity. I learned that there is power in not being a victim. I learned that having realistic expectations frees me to love others well. How can you do the same?