When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.
― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
No one asks me to make labor-intensive dinners. I choose it. Not every night, but probably twice a week. The chopping, the stirring, the seasoning, the simmering—sure, it takes a long time, but I do it because I love it. If there is one thing that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, it’s creating a delicious, healthy, home-cooked dinner and watching everyone enjoy it.
So, last week, I cooked a few labor-intensive meals for my family. This, despite the fact that
I had a feverish child home from school most of the week
I had several extra volunteer commitments
It was my anniversary
I was trying to prepare my house and pack for a weekend away with my husband
And *ESTROGEN ALERT!!! * I had a nasty case of PMS. (Sorry, it is what it is.)
Basically, I had more on my plate than I could reasonably handle without an overt hormonal response, and I was
pure evil a little stressed. All I expected was a little help. Was that too much to ask?
But on one of my labor-intensive-meal nights, after everyone oooohhh-ed and ahhhhh-ed and yummmm-ed over the meal, they politely asked to be excused. One-by-one, they took their plates to the sink, and off they ran—to finish homework, to play with friends waiting outside, to change out of work clothes and read the paper, to finish watching a television show. Didn’t matter. All I knew was they were leaving me and my hormones alone. In the kitchen. To deal with the aftermath of a labor-intensive meal.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but when I and my hormones are left alone in a kitchen full of dirty dishes and crumbs, my thoughts tend to be a little toxic…
I’ve been cooking for 2 stinking hours. The least they could do is help me clean this up. If everyone was in here helping, we could be done in less than 15 minutes and we ALL could go off and do our thing—including ME. Blah blah blah. I shouldn’t HAVE to ask them to help. blah blah blah They should OFFER. blah blah blah It’s rude to sit down to a home-cooked meal and not OFFER to help clean up!
Unmet expectations throw me off balance.
Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.
― Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
In fact, when I think through the little things that push my buttons on a typical day, they usually originate from unmet expectations:
When I ask a question, I expect a response. And please look away from the electronic device when I’m speaking to you.
When I go through your lane at the check-out, I expect you to greet me and act like you appreciate that I just spent $250 on groceries at your store.
I expect when I ask you to please bag all the cold stuff together, I will not find a stray yogurt in with the pantry items.
When I say I need to be out the door at a certain time or we will be late, I expect you to be out the door at that time so we are not late.
If you tell me you will be home at a certain time, I expect to see your face at the door about that time.
I expect when I walk into your bedroom after you leave for school, your bed is made and your dirty clothes are in the hamper.
I expect you to say “goodbye” when you exit my vehicle and “hello” when you get back in and “thank you” when someone does something nice for you, namely me.
If I text you or e-mail you, I expect a response. Even if the response is, “K” or “:)”
And speaking of e-mail, if I sit down at my computer to get some work done, I expect it to work—quickly.
And, truth be told, I simply expect that my day will always go as I have planned—which makes me chuckle just writing that, because when does the day EVER go as planned? (Hint: never). Yet, I can honestly say, I expect it, every single day and act genuinely surprised and disappointed when it doesn’t.
Is it any wonder that I sometimes feel like I’m battling unbalance all the blessed day?
There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations
― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes
Regarding unmet expectations, I have concluded I have two choices:
1. I can express my expectations clearly and offer consequences when they are not met. I admit, I did not do this with the dinner thing. I chose instead to pout. But this solution works well for most parenting scenarios (and a few marriage scenarios!). “Before you leave, I’d like you all to help me clean up the kitchen. When it’s clean, you can leave to go play.” “If you cannot put the I-Pod down when I am speaking to you, then I will take it away for the rest of the day.”(That’s for a child, not a spouse) “If your clothes are not in the hamper, I will not wash them.” “If you are going to be late, it’s helpful if you call and let me know, because I’m trying to keep your dinner hot.” “If you can’t be ready at 9:30, I will need to take a separate car.” But this doesn’t work well for everything. I can’t very well threaten the grocery bagger a week later for the stray yogurt—I mean, I could, but that would be so weird.
2. I can change my expectations. This works for nearly everything I can’t—or shouldn’t—control. It especially works when the preservation of a relationship (or my sanity) is more important than my expectations. But it ain’t easy. It requires wisdom and grace. It means I let go of what I think life should be and, instead, accept it for what it is: unfriendly grocery-store workers, sudden illness, moody teens, self-centered kids, distracted spouses, defective computers, and yes, even altered plans.
That sounds so negative, but it isn’t really. When we release people (or situations, even) from our unrealistic expectations, it releases us to find joy and peace even in the midst of the imperfection. It gives us the grace to shrug our shoulders and say, “You know what? This doesn’t really matter. Not really. Not if it means losing peace or damaging this relationship.”
Lower your expectations of earth. This isn’t heaven, so don’t expect it to be. –Max Lucado
Q4U: What unrealistic expectation will you release today for the sake of balance?