Expectations. Such a meaningful word. Our lives are filled with them, those we have of ourselves, those we have of others, and, of course, those others have of us. They cause us to act in extremes, motivating us to do our best or paralyzing us into indecision, or worse unhappiness. I believe they can be tremendously unhealthy because they are so abstract, never definite, not even the ones we have of ourselves.

The dictionary defines them as the degree of probability that something will occur. How appropriate. Their very nature is such that the degree to which we can meet any given expectation fluctuates and is mediated by forces often out of our control. An expectation on one issue to me will be very different to you. That’s the very reason they are so difficult to reconcile.

Here’s an example to illustrate my point. When I take time for myself away from my family, I usually feel rushed to return home, even though I believe this time is important for me and for them. I feel there is an expectation that time away be kept to a minimum, that my husband expects me to be back within a given time, that my children expect me to be there for bedtime, dinner or really anytime. My husband always says don’t rush, come home when you are ready. Still, I feel a sense of responsibility, that there really is an expectations and so I cut it shorter than I would like. This is why I believe expectations are impossible to meet. There is no absolute, no right or wrong. They are motivated by perceptions. Perceptions and expectations, the parameters by which I define my life.

I am consumed by the high expectations that I set for myself. At the same time, I worry over what I believe to be the expectations of others. Both are a tall order, neither are achievable. In my head, I know this. But my heart cannot separate the logic from the perception. I am a creature of the heart, I am motivated by lofty goals and I have an unhealthy need to please. It can be recipe for disaster.

As mothers I think we are particularly susceptible to the influence of expectations. They surround us: our partners have them, our children have them, friends have them, other parents/adults in our children’s lives have them of us, we have them of ourselves. The list goes on and on. They tug at us, they eat at our ability to cope. They feed our insecurities. They are difficult, and yet strangely motivating at the same time. Speaking from my own experience, while I find these expectations to be oppressive, there are things that I have done as a mother because I felt they were expected of me, not because I necessarily wanted to. It’s an odd equilibrium to live, this feeling like we aren’t quite doing enough, like there is always more that we can do as mothers. It unites us, and at the same time divides us. I feel it, I’m sure you do. The competition, the subtle reminders that we are not necessarily the best we can be, the innuendo that other children are better. It’s all around us.

I’ve never been good at it. I think that’s a good thing. While I’ve made these decisions, those based on my perception of expectations, I mostly don’t feel a burning desire for my children to measure up. I’m not quite sure why that is, because I can assure you that I am often crippled by my own need to meet the expectations of others. My entire life I’ve made decisions based on what I thought others expected me to do. I’ve taken very few leaps and mostly travelled the safe road. In the process, I think I lost my way. Expectations shape us, they change us, they motivate us, they decide who we will be for us. They are outside of us and inside of us and powerful.

I read somewhere once, that living from your heart means that you trust your own instincts more than the pressures or expectations of society, neighbours and friends. I haven’t yet discovered how to do that. I’m trying, I want to get there. Perhaps it’s that leap I mentioned. Maybe it has less to do with making decisions and more to do with finally finding strength within myself to just be me. I’m not strong enough, brave enough yet to do that. It’s scary, putting the real you out there. But I want to. I just need to find my way.

How do you feel about expectations? Do they motivate you or cripple you? Do you feel your life has been shaped by trying to meet them? Do you have high expectations of yourself, or do you feel comfortable that you lead a healthy balance?

Image:: ‘Love on Tehran`s Roof’


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