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Five Ways to Match Expectations to Real Life

What did you expect from life when you were young? How did it affect you when life didn’t turn out that way?

I had all sorts of ideas and fantasies, and pretty much all of them have deviated from reality by at least a little. Like that my children would be healthy. That praying and making the best decisions we could would avoid criticism. That there will always be enough money. That everyone is comfortable with being vulnerable and honest.

Each time when one of those ideas proves false, I wrestle with embarrassment, cynicism, wounded pride, discouragement, depression, anger. Sometimes those things win, at least for awhile. Sometimes for a long while.

Maybe false expectations are part of being human. I don’t know. But I do know that I respond a lot better to less-than-ideal things when I know ahead of time that things might be less-than-ideal. I really dislike bad surprises.

So at risk of sounding like a pessimist claiming to be a realist, I want to burst some of the bubbles that were most shocking or difficult for me. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. People lie. People say one thing to one person, and then turn around and say the opposite to someone else. They play games, manipulate, and back-stab. There’s nothing you can do about it. Even when you do your best to remain honest, straightforward, and loyal, you’re going to get hurt one day by someone else’s deceit.

    I’m finally finding a balance between hating humanity for being liars and blindly believing everything everyone says. Jesus calls us to be both wise and innocent. I believe that means we should live authentically and honestly but at the same time to know and expect people to be dishonest and to hurt us even when our lives are above reproach.

  2. Bringing a baby (tiny) into the family quintuples the volume of dirty clothes in the hamper. I thought we’d add a few tiny little baby things. Not so. I discovered immediately that my husband and I often had to change our clothes two or three times a day because of all the spit-up, blow-outs, and sticky-handed-hugs from our kids.These days, I’ve lowered my standards and don’t change unless I get covered with vomit or blood, or I have to go out in public. Sometimes I even forget to do that. Like last week when I took Little Boy to the doctor with salad dressing dribbled all down my front.
  3. Being the mom does not mean I rule the world. As a child, I always looked at my parents with envy because they got to decide the day’s activities. They had the power to make or break my day, depending on whether we were house-cleaning or field-tripping.Now that I’m the decision-maker, I’ve discovered that most of those decisions are actually made for me. Because I love my family and I don’t want to live in squalor, I have no choice but to grocery-shop, wash dishes, mop/vacuum floors, clean bathrooms, and tackle laundry.

    When I actually do have choices, the way I make those choices usually gets determined by everyone else. What would they like to do? What do they need to do? What is best for the whole family? Is spending money on this really the best choice right now?

    It is stunningly rare for me to get to decide to do what I want to do most. I suspect that this is one of the biggest shocks for people who marry late in life and thus have to overcome years of living alone and doing whatever they want… but it was still a surprise to me (and I  married/had children relatively young). And it remains a struggle.

  4. Adulthood is not about having fun. As the manager of day-to-day operations in our home, most of my days are filled with the dull, endless repetition of tasks which are speedily undone and with the brain-teaser of matching our finite quantity of time and cash to our infinite number of ideas, dreams, and projects.For sure, things like picking the food we eat, planning trips, visiting friends and family, and decorating our home are happy tasks. But I’ve learned that I’m a poor warrior in my battle for contentment in the drudgery and chronic shortfall of time and money.
  5. Being a parent means being interrupted. Family members (both spouse and children) interrupt my sleep, my meals, my projects, my conversations, my errands, my plans.But did you notice how many times I wrote “my?” Being part of a family means thinking about others more than myself. I have to beat down my voracious self-love and discover that serving others actually satisfied me more than pursuing my own interests to the exclusion of others.

    And I have to model what I am trying to teach my children: that showing respect and love for others means that I break my habit of interrupting others because interrupting shows that I think what I have to say is more important that what you have to say. And showing respect and love also means learning to be patient because your time is just as important as mine.

What has surprised you the most about life so far? How have you worked through that disappointment?

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