“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain
On Friday, I was so excited to spend a morning with my toddler whose preschool was closed for a teacher in-service day. His sister had her last day of school before the holiday break so it would just be the two of us. I expected that he would soak up all the individual attention and enjoy all the fun we could cook up. I expected it would be a lot like spending time with my daughter when she was two-years-old and it was just the two of us.
What actually happened is that he spent the whole morning missing his sister and coming up with ideas like biking. I was happy to oblige only to find out the only route that he wanted to go was the one to his sister’s school so we could go get her. He wouldn’t listen to reason that it was too early to pick her up (after all, he is two-years-old) and my patience was frayed by not only his disappointment but also my own.
You know what they say – expectations are a bitch.
So I opened Dr. Brené Brown’s recently published book Atlas of the Heart to the section entitled “Places We Go When Things Don’t Go as Planned”
She does a beautiful job of defining disappointment – “Disappointment is unmet expectations. The most significant the expectation, the more significant the disappointment.”
And then she delves into expectations. The whole section is so illuminating but here is the part that caught my eye:
“When we develop expectations, we paint a picture in our head of how things are going to be and how they’re going to look. Sometimes we go so far as to imagine how they’re going to feel, taste and smell. That picture we paint in our minds holds great value for us. We set expectations based not only on how we fit in that picture, but also on what those around us are doing in that picture. This means that our expectations are often set on outcomes totally beyond our control, like what other people think, what they feel or how they’re going to react. The movie in our mind is wonderful, but no one else knows their parts, their lines, or what it means to us.”Dr. Brené Brown – Atlas of the Heart
And the antidote to this disappointment? “Communicating our expectations is brave and vulnerable. And it builds meaningful connection and often leads to having a partner or friend who we can reality-check with.”
Reading over this, I thought of all the expectations that come with holidays – like that someone else will love the gift you got them or that loved ones will be able to perfectly see what you most desire and give that to you as a gift. With little ones, I expect that they will treasure the gifts I spent time and money to get them – and not just the box that it came in!
While I couldn’t reality check my expectations about our morning together with my two-year-old, thinking through this process has helped me immensely to uncover my own hidden expectations. And then to recognize in turn how they lead to disappointment. It also made me see that my expectations that he will ever have moments of acting like a first child are completely silly. This helps me relax into the beautiful relationship that we do have so I can enjoy the time we have together for what it is, not what I imagine it should be.