My daughter is reading Great Expectations. Don’t tell her teacher, but she hates it. Not the story, necessarily. She actually likes the plot. It’s the long pages of wordiness and tedious talk that is about to make her go crazy. She spends way too much time reading me excerpts to prove how dull it is. I agree with her. The book, and the topic, are tedious and complicated. Expectations, in general, are like that.
I think there is no better time to talk about EXPECTATIONS than around one’s birthday. I feel like this has notoriously been a time that I set myself up for some major disappointment if I don’t have my expectations in check. Birthdays celebrations are really important to me. Specifically, MY birthday celebration is really important to me. And more specifically, how my family behaves, responds and treats me all day long on MY birthday is really important to me. I probably don’t have to tell you that this leads to some disappointing birthday “celebrations”. It’s not because my family doesn’t love me or appreciate me on this momentous day. I always get gifts and cards and a dinner out at some point during my birthday week. I realize that is more than a lot of other people get. But my expectations are so high that I am pretty sure that most humans could not even begin to fill my “birthday shaped” chasm of neediness on this one day.
This year I finally wised up. I finally faced the fact that my expectations were setting me up for serious resentments. So I did what any smart girl would under the circumstances, I called my momma! Of all the people I knew to spend time with on my birthday, I knew she had the capacity to exceed my expectations. So, I arranged to spend the day and even over-night at her house about an hour away. My dad knew that it’s best to just “stay out of our way” so he came here and helped manage the kids and their schedules. We ate and shopped and ate again and went to the movies in the middle of a Thursday and then went home and watched another movie while she rubbed my feet! It was perfect.
Someone once said that “an expectation is a premeditated resentment.” We know that some people are incapable of following through, yet for some reason we expect them to show up and even be there on time. We are disappointed. We have experienced stressful, chaotic holiday dinners year after year, yet this year we expect that maybe they will be different. We are disappointed. We expect tenderness or understanding or affection from a spouse who does not have it in them to give out. We are disappointed. We expect (and this is a big one) our kids to say thank you for providing a nice meal, doing their laundry, or running to the store for the last minute item for the project they forgot about. We are disappointed. We expect people in general to be respectful to us. To be kind to all. To be patient. To behave like we think they should. We are majorly disappointed.
I used to get very put out when someone would suggest my expectations were too high. That I should lower them. What I have come to learn is that there is a difference between expectations and standards. And more importantly, I have no right to impose either of them on other people. Even when I have high standards for how I behave and how I allow others to treat me, It doesn’t always mean that I should expect those to be met. Sometimes there are really good reasons why they can’t be. I can be compassionate when this happens. And I can accept the reality of what others are able to give. They say the level of disappointment we live with is directly related to the distance between our expectations and reality. Lowering, or adjusting, my expectations of others doesn’t mean I have to accept unacceptable behavior. It’s a way of taking care of my own soul and preventing those premeditated resentments.
(Stay tuned for the expectations we put on ourselves. Those are even more brutal!)