The Problem with Expectations

Expectations about life can really trip you up. I tend to have lots of expectation about how events will go, how doing different things will make me feel (getting married, buying a house, having a baby, etc.). It’s hard not to picture what life will be like down the road–how this or that will turn out. But the problem with expectations is, they often lead to disappointment.

If I picture something a certain way and it doesn’t end up turning out as I imagined, bam, I’m disappointed. Rather than just letting life happen organically and enjoying each moment one step at a time as it is, I run around frantically trying to make things unfold as I pictured them–and when they don’t, I think something is wrong just because it’s not what I imagined.

Even worse than the expectations I build up in my own head are the expectations other people put in my head. We’re probably all guilty of it–of projecting our own feelings and experiences onto the feelings and experiences of other people. We tell the soon-to-be-bride, “Oh, when you walk down the aisle and see him standing there, you’re going to feel such-and-such.” What this actually means is when I walked down the aisle and saw him standing there I felt such and such–who knows what you’ll feel and who says you have to feel the same way I did anyway?

An example I hear a lot right now is, “when you have a baby of your own and you’re finally holding that little bundle in your arms, it will be like this.” This is all fine and well, people of course mean no harm, but the problem is, what if I think I’m supposed to feel a certain way when I hold my own baby and, well–I just don’t? If I get in my head that this experience is supposed to unfold just so and make me feel just a certain way, I might be disappointed or think something is wrong when those feelings aren’t there. Instead of soaking up and enjoying an experience and letting the thoughts and feeling come as they may, I end up missing out on the unique beauty of that moment by stressing about not feeling “right.”

I expect when I do hold a child of my own, it will be overwhelming, like no other experience I’ve ever had, and perhaps I’ll get emotional or feel things I’ve never felt before. But I don’t know that and I don’t want to get there and be disappointed about not feeling what I expected. I don’t want to distract myself from such a special moment by worrying about conjuring up a specific feeling or emotional response. After all, I’m not a crier. I’ve never shed a tear at any major event in my life–graduating from college, thrilling but no tears. Getting married—amazing, but no tears. Actually the closest I’ve ever come to tears of joy was when I got Freshly Pressed, haha! So, who knows and who cares? Let life happen as it may. Set aside expectations and feel things for yourself, as they are, whatever that may mean. Don’t assume something is “wrong” just because it’s not what you expected or not the way other people told you it would be.

*With all this talk about holding babies, I would just like to clarify that I’m not pregnant or planning on getting pregnant. But since this is probably the next major event in my life and all my friends are doing it, I hear about it a lot right now and do think about what that bundle will feel like in my arms :]

34 thoughts on “The Problem with Expectations

  1. Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…Ephesians 3:20. Sometimes I think we don’t have enough expectations….expectations can be the things hoped for the evidence of things not seen- the joy in being alive and looking forward to the future- enjoy the moment and believe that God loves you and has good gifts for his children. (Enjoy your blog, thanks for sharing your life with us!)

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  4. Kari, thank you for putting this out there. I love that I have discovered your blog and follow you daily. Refreshing, real, and this piece today spoke volumes, as this is often a big trap–expectations! Bless you girl. Big blessings on your day.

  5. Hey Kari, thanks as ever for sharing! Your piece is very thoughtful, but I wondered whether you’d actually considered that even the idea that you will have a baby is an expectation in itself? You focus very much on how you will feel when it happens, and how you can’t plan on what your reaction will be, but the fact that it will happen is a given. I completely understand – I felt exactly like you do pretty much my whole life. As I got closer and closer to the time when I (naturally – why would you think otherwise?) would have a baby, I also wondered about how it would be. I dreamed about holding a little one in my arms and wondered what sort of a mother I’d be. Only it didn’t quite happen like that. My partner and I have been trying to concieve for over four years now. I’ve been pregnant three times and lost each one )-: I continue to hope that it will happen, somehow, but as you can imagine, my spirits are flagging. It’s a rather horrible place to be – contemplating the fact that I might never be a mom. I guess I just wanted to pop on here and share my story because no one ever thinks about the handful of women that struggle to conceive, and why should they? It’s rare and something no one ever talks about, which is exactly what makes it even harder and lonelier for those of us who are struggling. Anyway, I just thought I’d add another layer and do my bit for raising awareness on this, sadly, taboo subject. When the time comes for you, I am sure that you will have absolutely no problem, and I hope the experience of motherhood will be a joyous one for you!

    • Thanks for the honesty in sharing your story. I have actually thought about the possibility that I won’t be able to have children of my own because several people very close to me have either tried for for years without success or have finally become pregnant and lost the baby (even later-term which has been so, so difficult for them when they finally really thought this one was going to make it). I know not having children, or struggling to have them, is possible and if that’s the case then I will have to do with the loss of that expectation when I get there. It’s scary to keep putting off having children knowing that I might finally decide I’m ready andthen not be able to conceive. I agree that more awareness needs to be brought to this situation because honestly, the majority of women in my life have either miscarried, struggled for years to get pregnant before conceiving, or both and it’s just not talked about and people (including myself often times) aren’t sensitive to the issue. I really do hope you are able to have the child you so desire. I hope you will have the courage and hope to keep trying–two of my sibling tried for 5-6 years before conceiving and now they have happy, healthy families. I know that may not turn out to be the case for you and others but I do hope somehow you will have the desire of your heart met.

      • Hi Kari, thanks for your lovely reply. You are right – I think struggling to conceive or keeping a pregnancy are more prevalent than we like to think. In my case, just knowing that people understand and are empathetic has helped me immensely. The story of your 2 siblings is encouraging and I am certainly going to keep trying. When your time comes I wish you nothing but plain sailing and joy!

  6. It’s so hard not to allow past events to cloud preset moments. Learning to be mindful and live in the moment is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had to face. Thanks for laying it out with the perfect mix of humor and integrity.

  7. Funny thing while I was reading this I thought about salvation. Some people cry, others don’t. Some people shout, others don’t. I had a friend who asked me several months after I was saved if I was ever going to quit smiling, I said I hope not!! I smile every time I think about how much Jesus did for me. Does that mean everyone has to, I hope not. Loved your writing as always.

  8. very good point! when my sister had her baby, they put him on her chest, and her first thought was, “what am i going to do now, i don’t know what i’m doing.” She was in shock and feeling really lost and exhausted.

  9. Just had to laugh at your line about near tears when you got Freshly Pressed! I’m not a crier either but I think that would make me start shedding some. No one understands that honor quite like we do!

  10. Way to stay in your own authenticity. Listening to the heartwarming stories of others is wonderful for the soul, but we don’t have to internalize them and build personal expectations around the stories of others. We all have our own paths to walk. Nicely done, Kari! :)

  11. When my son was first placed in my arms my first thought was “Wow, he’s heavy!’ and then I was filled with absolute terror. There’s no telling what you’ll feel about anything until it happens, and it’s all valid!

  12. really lovely blog piece and just so true. i need to keep remembering to enjoy the unique beauty of every situation and not let my expectations ruin the moment. thanks for sharing this.

  13. This is a wonderful article Kari. It is so unfair to place OUR expectations on to others or to build our expectations up to a place we know deep inside can never be met. Keep writing…I look foward to each new blog!

  14. Thanks for sharing. This is so true. When I had my first child almost 9 years ago I agreed to have everyone and their mother in my delivery room. Literally! So when I had my little guy, and I had no idea whether this would be boy or girl, everyone started crying. Except for me. I think I was probably in shock. But the thing that got me the most was everyone asking me why I wasn’t crying. They were also telling me I should be crying. Why exactly was I supoosed to be crying? I felt horrible but I just couldn’t cry. Then about 3 days after I was home and nursing, I started balling my eyes out. Happy tears of course! So, I completely agree with everything you are saying! Expectations can be overrated especially when they are not self induced!

  15. Your life is your life, and the feeelings and experiences you have are unique to you. I struggled for years and years with expectations, not only others, but the ones I put on myself. I finally realized things never turn out like we think and hope. Sometimes they are worse, but most of the time they are better than we could imagine. This is a great post. I think you are freshly pressed each time I read your blog. Well done.

  16. Maybe exchange the word intent for expectation, and forget anything was or is expected, and intend to be what you want, set your intent daily, even moment by moment.

  17. Ahh, the baby lust ;) There is nothing in the world that can turn perfectly rational women into mush than a baby/baby shower. Don’t get me wrong, I have a son (he’s 14 now), and I love him very much. But I’m just not a baby person. My friends think I’m strange. No thank you, I don’t want to hold the baby – geesh!

    I really like this piece. Everyone’s feelings are valid and should be respected. Still, it is hard to ignore those expectations, isn’t it?

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