Great Expectations



I have grown used to my husband being the more common-sensical person in our marriage. With his take charge personality, he seems to know how to handle just about any situation. I have grown so used to this trait of his that I find myself disappointed when he is wrong about something or admits he doesn’t know what to do. I have this expectation that he will keep us safe and well-functioning as a family no matter what.

What a heavy burden that is to place upon a person! I think men in general carry a lot of emotional weight around, not really allowed by society to crack or show weakness. While we women also bear much responsibility in our families, we are given leave to vent, to ask for help, and to lean on others.

Expectations can be difficult to live with. When our child fails to meet our behavioral standards, our parental disappointment is felt keenly not only by ourselves, but by our kids as well. I know I have felt betrayed and disillusioned by catching my child in a lie or in finding out they were unkind to a friend. Parental expectations can also put undue pressure on our children. Right now, my youngest daughter is going through high school final exams. She wants to do well, and that fact contributes to her stress. But she also has to live with our expectations as parents that she excel academically. As often as I say to her, “Just do your best,” she knows in her heart that I am hoping for a perfect report card.

Our children, for their part, often have superhuman expectations of us as parents. As they get older and see our imperfections, as they realize we are not infallible, they lose some of the comfort and security that their wide-eyed innocence afforded them.

It’s hard to see our heroes fall. Recently, Tiger Woods was arrested for a DUI, to the disappointment of many fans who idolized him for his golfing prowess. It’s the same for other athletes, political leaders, artists, and anyone else who has attained a larger than life persona. We have set them on pedestals, and it is all too easy to fall off those exalted mounts.

On the other side lies cynicism. We start to doubt anyone who attains acclaim for great talent, public service, charity, or career success. We become jaded by scandal and the inevitable recognition that being human means making (sometimes huge) mistakes.

We need to attain a happy medium wherein we can admire and hope for the best in people, where we can encourage goodness and excellence without crushing someone’s spirit when they fail, where our expectations of each other are tempered by compassion and the recognition that we are all imperfect beings and that most of us are trying our best to be good people.

For my part, I will try not to expect my husband to be my constant rescuer. I will love my children unconditionally and let them know that nothing they could ever do will change how I feel about them. I will even try not to be so hard on myself when I inevitably stumble. Better to practice great encouragement than to saddle people with great expectations.



Not So Great Expectations



This morning my 14-year-old daughter made a slightly inappropriate remark, and I laughed. Instead of enjoying my appreciation for her humor, she narrowed her eyes at me and said,”Last time I said that, you yelled at me.” It made me sad to realize that she had expected me to yell at her.

Don’t get me wrong. The levels of teenage sass that sometimes emerge from her mouth are not pleasing. But the larger issue is that we have developed a dynamic in which I expect her to be nasty, and she expects to be chastised for her comments. This dynamic is very common in families, in which parents and various children develop roles in their interactions with each other.

Some expectations can be good. Studies have shown that when teachers are told a group of students is extremely intelligent, their high expectations of the students lead to higher achievement than in classes where students are perceived as limited learners. The same is true for parents. If we expect hard work, good manners, and appropriate speech from our children, they are more likely to rise to our expectations.

Yet expectations can set up cycles of dysfunction in a family. The family “black sheep,” for example, regularly gets into trouble because s/he is expected to be a screwup. Once the pattern is established, it can be hard to break.

It’s true that I have different expectations of my four children. I assume one of them will usually be responsible while another will usually be irresponsible. I assume that one’s snide comments are meant in good fun while another’s are meant to inflict damage. I must even confess to a bit of a sexist attitude wherein I find off-color and potty humor, as well as swearing, much more offensive coming from one of my girls than from my boys.

I guess that recognizing my bias is the first step toward changing my expectations for each of my children. So while I remain committed to high expectations for their behavior at home and in school,  I need to practice another virtue in order to maintain a close, loving relationship with each child: acceptance.