By Maile Sundquist
I asked my mother-in-law what was the one piece of advice she had for me in terms of marriage. She replied,”Don’t have expectations.” Initially I was a bit indignant about what the idea of having no expectation for my marriage or life would imply. However, as I have gotten older, I realize just how important this bit of advice was.
Don’t have expectations? How can we not have expectations of marriage and our spouse?! I am the expectation queen when it comes to myself and my accomplishments, so of course I have expectations for marriage and my spouse! Without expectations we can’t get what we want in life and be satisfied, and grow in our abilities and career right?
It wasn’t until years later, as I lay in bed in emotional anguish, ridden by anxiety, depression, guilt and resentment and frustration at life, my husband and myself, that it hit me. The word of wisdom that Mama Katie shared with me was true, and important! Now there was much more behind my emotional turmoil than having too many expectations, including a bad case of gas, but I realized expectations had played a huge part in why I was emotionally distraught.
I will spare you the boring details, but in short, I had expectations, they were not met for whatever innumerable and probably good reasons, but I placed so much importance on those expectations being met that when they were not, my world was shaken. I complained and nagged and desperately tried to control and micro-manage everything and our house and everyone in it to try to get us back on the track I had expected we would be on, and although my intentions were good, and I wanted what I thought was best for our family, it just made matters worse and tensions higher.
I was the problem! My expectations of my husband, of myself, of our life together was the problem! Not that we had not created an album, finished a book, had more to show for ourselves, or whatever. The expectations and dream life and even self I had hoped for was preventing me from taking inventory of all that I had to be grateful for. And it was a lot! I had wonderful, loving and supportive friends and family, a faithful, loving, and amazing husband who cherished me and our son, and worked hard to provide for us. And of course my biggest blessing, my beautiful son!
I had to realize that I can’t control others, I can only control how I respond to others and circumstances, and that more than inspire or motivate, expectations often leave us ever wanting. They can bring unnecessary complication to relationships and can in fact be stifling and oppressive by their very nature.
Do we let ourselves down? Of course we do! So we should not be surprised when others let us down. People will continually let us down. It’s simply a fact of life. In some cases it is because they may be selfish, inconsiderate and self-important, and at worst vindictive or malicious, but often it is simply because they are human and just like ourselves, are not perfect, and are trying to do the best they can in this messy world, meeting their obligations to work and family and such.
We must also consider the fact that many expectations we have of others, and even ourselves are often unattainable, or simply not fair. And often we fail to express expectations to someone and when they let us down we hold them responsible, yet they were just acting in good faith and doing what came naturally to them. The most frightening thing that I have seen lately is the cancel culture mentality our society has seemed to adopted, where by if someone does not check all of the boxes of our lofty expectations we unfriend them, shun them, make a public mockery of them, defame them, and in extreme cases sue them or cause them to lose their livelihood.
It is true that there are things a person could do that are immoral or illegal where necessary recourse should take place, but I have found in most cases, it is that society has become more intolerant and ridged in our views, and have forgotten what grace and forgiveness look like in our personal relationships and social, political and life views. The outcome is broken relationships, broken community, and broken culture.
Another example of this that I have witnessed many times is the expectations put on pastors of a church. I have heard so many Christians complain about, or leave a church, or even The Church, due to feeling let down by a pastor. Please my friends, don’t let one fallible human derail you from your faith! Many people expect pastors to be excellent teachers, speakers, missionaries, evangelists, shepherds, counselors, mentors, peace-makers. In some instances there is the expectation they will have what we call “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, such as speaking in tongues, the ability to prophesy, and heal. Lately it seems many are expected to be politically savvy and even social justice warriors who fly around with capes and leggings featuring ninja cats farting rainbow tacos in space.
Just reading this list is quelling, and yet if we think about it, who wouldn’t want to have a flying cape and legging wearing pastor, I mean we put these kinds of unattainable expectations upon our own shoulders, the shoulders of our siblings, parents, bosses, spouses and even children.
No one suffers more from expectations than the children as they sit idly by as we endlessly reply to this or that text or email in fear that our friends might have to wait an hour for a reply, as we manically clean and tidy the house to our ridged specifications, and speak down to or harshly to our child if they leave crumbs on the couch. When both parents work to afford a lifestyle that is more than they need, and the children are raised by nannies instead of their own parents. When we concern ourselves with what others think of our child’s civility and smarts, and yell at them (a very uncivilized thing to do by the way) when they put their elbows on the table, or don’t say excuse me. Or when as a society, we expect young children who should be free to make mistakes, be a kid, and roam the natural beauty of planet earth in their younger years, and learn organically, to sit in a classroom for hours, learning primarily from books, and to have a short time to play in a concrete playground. And when they don’t sit still enough or concentrate or focus long enough we medicate them. No other age has more expectations put upon it than do children ages 0-18 in terms of physical, mental, emotional growth. Childhood anxiety is on the rise, and it is no wonder. And when that child fails to meet the societal expectations we immediately worry and feel ashamed and embarrassed. We make excuses, or desperately grasp for something that will make our child what society thinks they should be.
I recognize that every age has a stereotype attached to it, infants poop, toddlers tantrum, children eat crayons, teenagers eat Tide-PODS, adults have tantrums, and the elderly poop. No matter what age we are, we should not feel constrained by the expectations that people or society put on us in terms of our age, sex, race, religion, social economic status or job title.
I have finally come to a place where I am ready to examine where my expectations lie for myself, my husband, and my son. To figure out what of those expectations are fair, and necessary, and which should be tweaked or burned in the depths of the fiery pits of hell from whence they came. I also am striving to be aware of where the expectations come from. Are they from within me, or from society? Are the ones in me from society? Don’t get me wrong, some societal pressures are good in terms of showing people common decency and saying please and thank you, and not bringing a hand grenade to work and such, but the deeper level expectations that infringe on one’s faith, morals, dreams, life, and values should always be examined.
I imagine my struggle to balance expectations will be a battle until I die, but I’m okay with that. I think as long as I remain as easy going as a jellyfish and conscientious of how expectations are playing into my life thoughts and decisions, that things will land where they need to, and my boys and I will be happier for it.