It was the Easter Sunday morning. The night before, a magical bunny had hopped around our back garden with a torch in hand hiding away chocolate eggs. I had plans for the day. We would go looking for eggs, she would be all excited, we would play games, then make cupcakes, some cinnamon cake, and have a day full of fun and sunshine. Instead, at nearly midday, I was sitting on the couch, wrestling a sobbing stubborn three-year-old in a fit of a tantrum, feeling exhausted, frustrated, and deflated. So much for my expectations of a great day…
Expectations are normal. Even necessary. After experiencing something in the same way for a few times, we conclude this is how the world operates and expect it to be this way the next time. We build on what we know and then go forward. Only we cannot experience everything ourselves. Sometimes we are just faced with the new and have no past references to fall back to. How do we know what to expect then? Who do we turn to?
That is where complications begin. There are always established pathways of the people before us or the people around us. It is not always wiser to take the path less travelled. The problem is that nowadays the people who have made the more trodden paths for you to fall onto often turn out to be absolute strangers who neither know you nor care about you. Media is one major incarnation of those influences. We are presented with photoshopped unrealistic bodies of celebrities along with ‘instruction manuals’ to replicate them. We are told, ‘This is what is expected of you’. But by who? If only we stopped and thought about who set these expectations and for what reasons, we might – just might – be less inclined to run to the shop for the next weight-loss supplement/anti-ageing product/diet book…We might put our money, time, and effort towards our own goals. If we put some time and effort in discovering them, that is.
Parenting is another area infused with incredibly high expectations. Magazines are full of gazelle-like post-baby celebrities, baby massage/yoga/pilates/music classes are to be collected and proudly displayed like medals and you inevitably enter a war zone no matter which side of the bottle feeders vs ‘breast is best’ battle you chose. You would think parenting should be about children…
And it is not only the media either. When I returned to work after 10 months at home with my baby, the chart topping question from everybody for the next half a year was ‘is she sleeping through the night yet?’ (She is not even one year old, what do you think?..) The sense of inadequacy that this brings is as astonishing as it is silly. On one internet forum, most of the co-sleeping mothers admitted to staying silent about the fact that they share a family bed with their kid. I remember myself feeling slightly embarrassed telling people that I sleep in my daughter’s room at night, even though it was my own very conscious choice and I knew I was doing right by my child. There seems to be some silent agreement by all parents to pretend they are doing better, their lives are greater and easier than they actually are. God forbid anybody thinks you are not getting a full night’s sleep, or having trouble feeding your child vegetables, or feel frustrated with them… So we end up trying to live up to some ephemeral expectations that hardly anybody does live up to.
What about our homes? Our cars? Our holidays? It is natural to long for a place to call yours. But who determines what that place will be or how we will get it? Education leads to job that earns money that lets you borrow more money so that you can take a mortgage and be stuck repaying it for decades. Everyone is expected to follow thid path. Is it such a bad thing? I don’t know, maybe not. But is it the only option? Certainly not. And there are folks who do things differently. Take, for example, the Tiny House Movement were people decide to sacrifice size for the sake of simplicity and financial freedom. Or the likes of Catrina Davies (who I have mentioned in my previous post), who choses passion and freedom instead of convention and comfort. Right choices aren’t easy, but there are choices.
As a teenager I always claimed I did not have the picture of my ‘ideal husband’. I was convinced that if I imagine him in my head, put him together as a jigsaw of certain qualities and characteristics, I will close the doors of my heart to people who might not have that particular arrangement of jigsaw parts, but still be awesome. I did not want to limit that person in the future by my narrow expectations. This in itself is not a flawless aproach, but it is true that with expectations we draw a circle and eliminate everything outside of it. And there could be treasures outside. If we are going to do that, if we are going to draw that limiting circle, then it may be a good idea to at least make sure that we are the ones who set those boundaries. Let us decide for ourselves what will be expected of us. I write this for myself as much as anyone who reads this.
This blog entry was written in response to this prompt, called Great Expectations.