Letting go of expectations

I’ve been circling around this idea for a while now in my brain, and I’m just now deciding I need to confront it head-on.  Over a year ago, I remember feeling strongly overwhelmed (at the time, I thought it was some sort of postpartum depression before the baby had even been born).  Since then, although the degree of intensity has varied, I’ve been unable to shake a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the course my life has been taking.

My insightful friend KarenD recently shared a quote that hit the nail right on the head: “The distance between your reality and expectation is the level of your frustration.”

Exactly!  I think the problem is that I’ve been indiscriminate in importing expectations for what I should be doing as a wife/mother/homemaker/ woman/(fill-in-the-blank).  I read a parenting book or a blog post, listen to a sermon, look at Pinterest, or have a conversation with a person of conviction, and walk away subconsciously thinking, “That makes a lot of sense. I should be doing that.”

Here’s a sample of some things I think I should be doing (this list is far from exhaustive):

  • composting
  • reading classic literature
  • reading theologically challenging/enriching material
  • cloth diapering (guilt for Abby’s contribution to landfills, worrying what I’ll do with Tres)
  • cooking healthy meals at home
  • …that I have planned on a calendar two weeks to a month in advance
  • …made of fresh, locally grown ingredients
  • …made of organic ingredients
  • …including less meat
  • …including fewer simple starches
  • …including fewer processed ingredients
  • …while sticking to a frugal grocery budget
  • interacting with Abby in structured teaching times
  • teaching Abby to play more independently
  • making the most of Abby’s last few months as an only child by giving her my undivided attention as often as possible
  • praying more
  • reading my Bible more faithfully, for longer periods of time
  • blogging on a regular schedule
  • drinking more water
  • keeping a cleaner house
  • giving time, not just money, to worthy local missions and nonprofits
  • taking more beautiful photos of everyday family life
  • …and keeping them edited, organized, and scrapbooked
  • increasing my understanding and appreciation of great art and classical music
  • creating a monthly budget and sticking to it
  • balancing checkbook
  • exercising (a sensible mix of cardio, weight training, and yoga-type stretches)
  • making my own craft supplies, including but not limited to play dough, finger paint, sidewalk challk, glitter moon goo, and crayons
  • using all-natural cleaners and personal hygiene products

Okay, so you get the idea.  The problem is, some of these things are actually important.  I really should be doing them.  But some of them are not even things that I care about!  And yet I carry them around my neck like so many albatrosses, listening to them–and believing them!–when they tell me I’m not measuring up.

Now I’m at the point where my list of “shoulds” is so overwhelming, I am not doing anything about any of them.  I’m taking the path of least resistance from one day to the next, eating out, using credit cards, reading whatever strikes my fancy, and then going to bed at night frustrated because I’m not the grown-up I always thought I would be.

It’s got to stop.

Because when I think of all the ways I “should” be healthier/wiser/smarter/ greener, there’s one change that is more important to me than any:  I want to be a person who is joyful and content, not a person who is continually dissatisfied.

God has made me who I am, and he has placed me in my particular family.  My challenge is to ask, “How will I best love and serve those people God has put in my life? How am I called to be a good steward of my resources, passions, and opportunities?”  Then I can pour myself–creatively, wholeheartedly, joyfully–into those things that best accomplish those ends.  (Okay, the budget won’t get much joy or creativity…but it will be a means to some other ends that will be more fulfilling!)

When I have made my choices intentionally, I can look any other mother straight in the eye, and say (with no sarcasm), “I admire your composting bin and organic garden so much.  How wonderful that it brings joy and vegetables to you and your family!”  And then I can move on with confidence, knowing that that’s not my own passion or calling, at least not in this season.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one struggling here…if you need some encouragement to pare down your own “Should” list, keep reading:

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5 responses to “Letting go of expectations

  1. Carolyn Dickinson

    As usual, you have hit the nail on the head and elucidated something we all feel today. Even I, an empty-nester, think (after browsing Pinterest) that I SHOULD be doing more to be green/creative/thrifty/whatever since I don’t have the interruptions of little ones every 10 seconds! Since my kids were little in the pre-technology era, we spent many hours playing, reading, picnicking, feeding ducks, trips to the library, etc. The link above,”Your Children Want You”, states what has always been true…kids need their parents, not their stuff.

    Thanks for the honesty.

  2. Carolyn, the more I’ve been tuned into this idea, the more I’m seeing it among all kinds of careers, life stages, and personalities. Young moms don’t have the corner market on guilt and comparisons!

    But, if you are a mom, here’s one more link for you that I stumbled across today: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/the-end-of-mommy-wars

  3. I’m SOOO thankful you’ve written this. I’ve entered into a vicious game of “who’s the super-mommy” without even knowing it. I’ve stopped going on pinterest for this very reason. I always feel so inadequate, but when I think about it, I probably make a lot of others feel just as horrible. I’m aware of this problem, and working on finding a balance between sharing photos on facebook with friends and family and being sensitive to fellow mothers. I’m definitely checking out those links, because I always need encouragement. I go from feeling like supermom to being reminded of how inadequate i actually am. and that’s the truth! On my own I AM completely inadequate. Those days where I mange to get food on the table AND spend time with my boy are gifts from God, not of my own ability. and I need to stop letting on that it’s my own skills and knowledge that make these days possible. We see people’s blogs that only reflect a moment of their day. I can tell you that if I had a blog, it would NOT reflect my inadequacies and a “needs more attention” section. But it should. and #1 would be to spend more time in His word. Needless to say that I have a lot of work to do in this area, but i’m really glad that you were able to shed some light and get me thinking. Thanks!

  4. Sarah Johnson

    Love this post! I think if you were to do all those things on your list, you would put the Proverbs woman to shame.
    I laughed because I feel some of those same feelings of inadequacy, but I’m just so far away from doing any of those things. After Bobby was born, I felt super proud of myself if we made it to the mailbox each day. While I would love to be baking homemade bread and visiting organic farmer’s markets, I’m lucky to make it out of my PJ’s before 10:00. 🙂
    Blessings to you friend for being so honest. It does encourage me to think about the important things that I should be doing while taking care of a child (which all mom’s should view as a major accomplishment!) like reading more scripture or praying regularly. One thing at a time, right?

  5. I loved your post and can completely relate. I already admire you so much because you are a godly woman and a wonderful mother, so don’t do any of that long-term meal planning, composting, make-your-own-chalk stuff or you will make me feel bad 😉

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