I recently read this blog post by Michelle Duggar. Now, Michelle may be a controversial figure, and while I don’t totally agree with her theologically, I do think that as far as parenting, she knows a thing or two. She has 19 children, all of whom seem (at least on television) to be respectful, loving, and well-rounded individuals. So when she offers parenting tips, I pay attention. This particular one, that we give up expectations, has me thinking and closely examining the way I parent–and the rest of my life as well. I think it’s a concept that is particularly helpful in dealing with children in foster care, with special needs, trauma histories, etc.
I think Michelle hits a nail on the head, here. If I have no expectation that I will have a calm, uneventful afternoon, then my level of frustration when indeed that doesn’t happen will go down. If I have no expectation that I will get a full night’s sleep, I won’t be as resentful when I’m awoken by my child (or cats). I’ll still be tired, but I’ll have less negative emotion about it. So, then, if we remove expectations of no spilling or mess-making, or a perfectly clean bedroom, or being able to act one’s chronological age, we are then free to properly address the moment.
As Michelle says, no expectations doesn’t mean not having goals. I will add it also doesn’t mean there aren’t limits. For instance, I “expect” my son to be respectful in his words and actions. There are consequences when he falls short of that expectation. However, in that case, I use the word more as “guideline” or “requirement” even, because in reality, I have no expectation that he will in fact always be respectful–hence the consequences that help “remind” him.
I’ve been trying this out the past week or so, and I have to say, I think it’s starting to work. If I don’t go into the bathroom with the expectation that it will be as clean as when I lived alone, I don’t get as frustrated when there’s toothpaste all over the sink. I can clean it myself or not and move on (I can also instruct E on how to clean it and suggest the eventual goal that there won’t be toothpaste everywhere while still realizing it’s a work in progress and enabling myself to offer praise if it is clean!). If I don’t have expectations about how my day will go, then I enter situations more curious about what will happen, and less likely to be disappointed if things don’t go how I would have wanted/expected.
Sometimes life does this for us. We’re thrown a curve ball which yanks any expectations we might have had about how life is “supposed” to go right out from under us. A mother’s expectation of watching her three girls tease each other as teenagers is gone when one of them gets cancer at age 2. A father’s expectation of playing ball in the backyard with his son changes when the son is born with significant special needs. We have expectations of growing old with grace, of a “normal life,” of kids who behave like other kids. Instead we get a diagnosis of a debilitating illness, events or choices veer us away from “normal,” and we learn the ins and outs of psychiatric care and residential facilities. Having no expectations will not immunize us from the grief that comes with any of these situations. Of course not, because we never really relinquish all expectations, and we still have hopes and dreams. But really, perhaps we have no right to expect any of these things–healthy children, long life, normalcy. None of us is guaranteed anything, not even our next breath. So by releasing any sense of expectation or entitlement, we are free to feel gratitude for the gifts and blessings we have been given and to not take them for granted, and we can be present with whatever we are actually facing–and, I believe, know that God is also present with us.
Of course, this works up to a point. Children in foster care, in many instances, already have very low expectations for how adults will treat them and their lives in general. They need to be taught that difference between expectations that can lead to frustration–like the clean sink or a quiet house or getting to do whatever whenever–and those that are more requirements. They have the right to expect love and care and for adults to follow through on promises and fill the child’s needs. They have the right to expect that things can go their way in life, at least sometimes. They should be able to have expectations about succeeding in life and being in healthy relationships with other people and making a contribution to the world and becoming the best person they can be. And they have the right to grieve when their expectations are not met, and feel disappointed, and to be able to change situations that really aren’t meeting those expectations.
I hope I made some sort of sense in this post. It feels a little rambling and disjointed, but that’s kind of the way my thoughts are these days…