Great Expectations

When my son Gray was three years old, my mom stopped by our house and uttered these fateful words: I have something for you.

What is it, Grandma? What is it? He eyed the plastic shopping bag, imagining all the wonderful things it could contain…

A jungle gym.

A life-sized brontosaurus model.

A moped.

An x-ray machine.

A giant squid.

He reached into bag and pulled out…

PAJAMAS!

Adorable, bright, fun robot pajamas.

Now, Gray is totally into robots — those pajamas were right up his alley. But instead of smiling and thanking his grandma for the gift, he stared at the PJs, sulking.

It was simple to understand what had happened. When Grandma said she had a surprise, three-year-old Gray immediately thought toy or treat.

He was expecting a toy or treat.

So instead of being thankful and excited for the awesome robot jammies Grandma chose just for him, he stood, sad and moping, about the toy he DIDN’T get.

Gray’s own expectations were the source of frustration here. His expectations that a surprise meant a gift or a toy collided with the reality that sometimes gifts can be functional.

Meanwhile, poor Grandma stood there, unacknowledged and unappreciated for the kind gesture.

Of course, we saw the opportunity for a teachable moment, and talked with Gray about gratitude and appreciation.

And really, the concept seems pretty simple when we’re thinking about three year olds.

But are we adults that much different?

At a recent gathering, some girlfriends and I were discussing the difficulties of trying to plan Valentine’s Day date nights, or any date nights really. We lamented how tough it can be to find (and pay) a sitter for an evening out. Some of us have family living nearby. Some of those family members are very involved with our children. Others are not.

One friend mentioned her struggles with her mother’s lack of interest in sitting for her grandchildren. She’s close with her mom and had high expectations of how she would act as a grandma. She thought her mom would be very involved, that she would ask to take the kids on adventures, that sleepovers at Grandma’s house would allow for frequent date nights or weekend getaways for my friend and her husband.

Those things are not happening.

My friend is disappointed, but she’s also bitter and frustrated. This is not what she expected.

Meanwhile, the grandma goes about her life oblivious to what the daughter is feeling.

In reality, maybe that grandma never intended to take her grandchildren for outings or overnights. Maybe her expectations ARE just to be the fun grandma — to show up bearing gifts, to see the kids at holidays and birthday parties.

PartyGrandma

Is my friend wrong for wishing her mother was more willing to help?

Is the grandma wrong for enjoying her freedom and living her life?

Or is no one really at fault, because the origin of tension here is the basic collision between expectations and reality?

We all have our own examples of unmet expectations. I spent my first five years of marriage resentful at Chad for not clearing the snow from our driveway and walks in the way I thought it should be cleared.

I grew up in snow country. I had ideas of how a man cleared snow.

The morning after a snowstorm, male residents of my town are out before dawn with their mega snow-blowers, shovels, and ice picks, clearing the snow and spreading salt or sand.

snowblowing

Chad grew up in Southern Ohio. His history with snow is starkly different than mine. He didn’t have to deal with it often, and he never had to deal with it in twelve-to-eighteen inch accumulations.

During his first few winters in Michigan, he’d go out with a shovel after a storm and make a few good swipes to clear a path. It vaguely resembled walkable. But it wasn’t good enough for me.

Later, I’d go out and chip at it myself, entertaining an inner monologue something like this one:

What the hell is this? Doesn’t he know to clear right down to the pavement? It’s dangerous walking on a layer of packed ice and snow! No pride of ownership. The mailman is going to slip and break his coccyx out here. Oh, super, now Mr. Robert is doing his driveway– he must think my husband is a total deadbeat. Here I am, pregnant, shoveling snow, while Chad is off having a lunch “meeting” with his mentor! He’s probably eating my favorite southwest salad at my favorite restaurant and not thinking of me at all. He doesn’t care about me or this baby! There goes Mrs. Nichols, totally craning her neck to see my slovenly driveway – there will undoubtedly be traffic accidents on my street today because drivers are so distracted by our slippery sidewalk of doom. Crap, crap, CRAP! I just remembered…

GScookies

There is no way a young flower of a Girl Scout could make her way through this wreckage to our front door. Fan-freakin-tastic, Chad! Thanks a lot! No Thin Mints this year. No Do-si-do’s. No Rah-rah Raisins! My life is ruined.

GScrying

Do you SEE what’s happening here?

My expectations don’t align with my husband’s. Something that’s important to me is not important to him. And that makes me hurt and angry. It also makes me blow things way out of proportion and come to wrong conclusions about Chad’s intentions. Pretty soon, my clarity is totally clouded and I’m a dramatic diva in Sorel’s, clutching an ice pick.

A dramatic diva who certainly isn’t feeling gratitude for her husband – a husband who takes out the trash, plunges toilets, scoops dog poop, loads the dishwasher, and on and on…

I’m too busy dwelling on what he missed to be thankful for his efforts.

My friend is too focused on what her mom doesn’t do for the kids to appreciate what she does do.

My son was so caught up in his idea of a gift that he didn’t even realize he had received one.

Unchecked, these types of situations can wreak havoc on our relationships. They shift the focus from what we have to what we don’t have. They cause us to feel bitter towards others who may not even realize that we are upset with them. Worse, they keep us from owning our part, from recognizing our own misguided feelings or actions, because we’re too busy dwelling on what we see as the other party’s error.

We’re all human, and we all have blind spots. But it’s up to each of us to recognize those blind spots in order to prevent them from complicating or destroying our relationships.

What unmet expectations are we struggling with today? Are we willing to talk about our disappointments with the other party so they don’t remain oblivious to our frustration?

Have we considered that our friends’ or loved ones’ expectations may differ from our own? How can both parties’ expectations be voiced, affirmed and revised in a way that works for all of us ?

No relationship is beyond reconciliation if we who are involved show willingness to listen, speak, examine, and adjust. Healing is hard work, but the payoff is extraordinary. Richer, deeper relationships are closer than we’d imagine, and are capable of fulfilling, or even exceeding, our earnest expectations.

33 thoughts on “Great Expectations

    1. Yes! Many of us would benefit from frequent reminders to untwist our knickers! 🙂 Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. So glad you can relate! Cheers, Stacy

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  1. I love so many of your posts but this one strikes a chord with me even more than usual! So true re expectations and a great reminder that even our families are not mind-readers when it comes to knowing what we want.

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    1. Yes, Liz, sometimes we assume that the people who know us so well will also know exactly what we want and need ALL THE TIME. It sounds silly to even say that aloud, doesn’t it? So many of us could benefit from being gentle, yet direct with our needs and expectations. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. Warm regards, Stacy

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  2. When I bring a plastic bag in to my house . Everyone even the cat, and the dog come out to see if it’s for them hahaha . I think you hit the nail on the head. This story really made me think about my frustrations and hurt . It’s me and what I expect and the other person is completely oblivious because I haven’t told them . Thank you for giving me a better perspective to look at things . Keep up the great writing . I love reading your work 🙂

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    1. Alice, that is too cute about the plastic bag! They won’t be fooled, will they? Yes, I believe a great deal of hurts could be avoided if we gently and clearly communicated our expectations to one another. I’m so glad to hear you could relate to this topic, and I appreciate you taking the time to let me know! Thanks for reading, old friend! Cheers, Stacy

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    1. Yes, it’s so humbling when we realize we haven’t even TOLD the other person about the hopes or expectations that have lead to our frustration. Oh, the human experience! Thanks for reading, relating, and commenting! Cheers, Stacy

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  3. Wait a minute, I thought I did get down to the concrete. On second thought, connecting the dots here, we haven’t had a girl scout or religious solicitor visit in the winter for quite some time. All kidding aside, this post (like so many others you’ve written) exposes a truth that we all tend to live somewhat obliviously with. The fact that we all have our own ideas and philosophies on how things should be done, and then assume that others will magically know these truths,as well as embrace them. Here’s to committing to live a life that doesn’t lead to my spouses unhappiness, well, to the best of my ability anyway, and consistently taking inventory of my own unchecked, unrealistic expectations. Thanks for the encouragement to always see the best in others and to communicate clearly my feelings. Your husband is one lucky guy, you can tell him I said that!

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    1. We’re a work in progress, aren’t we? Thanks for your willingness to listen, examine, and revise. XOXO (PS–You can stop buttering me up now. I put down the ice pick.)

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  4. I love this Stacy! As a grandma, I can relate to the pj story! I have learned the lesson myself….never bring pj’s or clothes in and say it is a “treat”! New pj’s for the grandkids are only a treat for Mom and Dad, and I sneak them in the house in one bag, while I have something small (usually chocolate) for the kids in the other hand! Lol

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    1. You are one smart grandma, Perry! We too have learned a thing or two about child psychology around here 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for taking the time to let me know! Enjoy those grandbabies! Stacy

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  5. I really liked this. I feel like most of the conflicts I’ve had in life could have been avoided if expectations had been made clear. Those are hard conversations to have, but ultimately worth it, as you note.

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    1. I agree, Adam. Just about every problem conflict I’ve ever had has stemmed from ego or expectations. Here’s to keeping both in check! Thanks for the comments, my friend. Stacy

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  6. I really like this. I feel like most conflicts I’ve had in my life could have been resolved sooner if expectations had been made clear. Those can be tough conversations to have, but ultimately, worth it, as you note.

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  7. Perfect timing. I’d checked here for something new 15 mins before this appeared; so you have set my “expectation” for something new weekly. =) I am also thrilled you addressed this concept; foundational to building/maintaining a strong marriage. I wish every couple would go to counseling after their first year so a relationship pro can help them identify/reset both known and subconscious expectations. Any ideas you have on making “3 free marriage counseling sessions” an acceptable wedding gift are welcome.

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    1. I’m really glad the post struck a chord with you, Brandy. Yes, we all have conscious and subconscious expectations that we carry into our relationships. I’m sure that counseling, both individual and couples, has helped many people find the happy place where expectations can exist in harmony with reality. Still not sure how a counseling gift certificate would be received as a wedding gift! 😛 Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Cheers! Stacy

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    1. Yes, I hope so! Relationships are hard work, but so fulfilling when we look beyond the surface and act in ways that will strengthen our bonds. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! Best, Stacy

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