I remember how uncomfortable and downright ornery I’d get at times as a new mother. Despite talking with actual parents of actual babies for guidance before our firstborn arrived, I expected a newborn who would sleep all night (nope, for both our kids). I expected to feel confident as a new mom – you know, that mothering would come naturally for me (yeah, right).
But, our sweet, little angel taught me that there’s the Theoretical Baby, and the Actual Baby. And they’re definitely not the same.
Being a parent is such a blessing. But, my first steps into parenthood yanked me out of expectations I’d imposed on myself without even realizing it. I could tackle challenges on the job with relative ease – but, all that confidence went down the drain as a first-time mom. Is she eating enough? She’s not burping – is that okay? What does that cry meeeean?!? Shouldn’t I know the answers to all of these questions?!?
The tiniest person in our home slammed all of my rigid expectations on the ground and danced on them. I had to adjust to new sleeping patterns and new sounds and a new uncertainty that left me second guessing everything I did. And that uncertainty irritated me.
Because I’m a recovering perfectionist.
It took me a while to recognize that fact. It took me even longer to understand that being a perfectionist has an awful lot to do with expectations we place on ourselves and others. Too often, those expectations are not realistic nor flexible (I’ll complete all 22 items on my to-do list TODAY!). And when we don’t meet those expectations (I only got 3 items done?!?), frustration usually shows up.
At age 46, I know that I know this. Yet, I forget it from time to time. So, life’s journey bops me on the head to remind me that being rigid in our expectations can dampen our spirits, our creativity, and our peace of mind. Take, for example, a recent head-bopper.
I heard of an upcoming holiday musical program, and I became determined to get my dad there. This time of year can be extra tough for elders, especially if they’re missing their home of many years, or loved ones who’ve passed away. That’s true for my dad. Sure, he’s a tough cookie. But, I knew hearing traditional carols and familiar songs would lift his spirit.
What started as a noble intention, however, morphed into something else. I started running with scissors, imagining we’d enjoy a lovely ride to the church, arrive early, get great seats and enjoy angelic music, our hearts lifted and faces smiling. And that we’d ride home in peace and joy holiday-style, recalling our favorite moments and songs.
It’s what I expected, clearly and firmly.
Well, the angelic music, lifted hearts and smiles were all there, front and center. Dad loved the program, as did I.
But the full, actual experience of our little outing also required loading Dad in our car in cold rain. Almost hitting a family of 6 deer en route. Settling Dad in the Overflow Room on arrival because the church sanctuary was jam-packed. Parking up the street and around a corner. And running back to the church in the rain to join Dad inside.
And, once the program ended, doing it all in reverse (minus the deer, but add a restroom stop for Dad).
And about 6 minutes into our drive home, Dad forgot all about the lovely music we’d just enjoyed and lamented instead about missing a church service 6 hours away in Virginia.
It seemed our mountaintop, musical experience together was already a distant memory. And, in that moment, I had a choice: Let go of my expectations and go with the flow, or resist and have a pity party.
I resisted, wallowing in silent disappointment at a party for one.
I forgot to be what I am as a caregiver, countless times each day: nimble, open to whatever comes my way, adaptable. It’s one of many ways to stretch and grow in the Flexibility Department.
By the time we got home, I remembered that simple fact and started letting it all go. Dad and I moved onto other topics and enjoyed the holiday music on the radio. My big a-ha? I’d triggered my own disappointment, hanging onto expectations of how something should be, or someone should react, or something I should have done but didn’t. With clarity, I saw it all, plain as day. As I surrendered, I laughed at myself. And I swear I could hear life chuckling with me – at my initial expectations AND at my resistance to adjust to the reality in front of me.
We can go overboard with our expectations – and stress ourselves and others in the process. But, when life knows I need to be reminded, it whispers: “Stay flexible, Karin. Ditch the rigid expectations. Go with the flow.” And when I listen, I feel lighter and see clearly.
So, make plans and hope for the best – doing so is okay and logical. But let’s also extend grace and flexibility to ourselves and others along the way. And don’t worry: When we need it most, life will toss a reminder our way about those dastardly, strict expectations. Catch the reminder, and go with the flow.
Your Turn: Do you place rigid expectations on yourself and others?
When life urges you to adjust those expectations, do you listen and do so?