No Expectations

Take me to the station

And put me on a train,

I’ve got no expectations

To pass through here again

Expectations have caused me a lot of pain over the course of my life. I was often disappointed and hurt when I expected my parents to act a certain way. Boyfriends and significant others, being male, could not read my mind and my expectations of them led to more hurt.

I have had women friends of whom I expected certain things, only to find out that the person I thought I knew did not exist. I had a friend whose parenting style mirrored my own, or so I thought. So when she UNINVITED ME from their family’s holiday gathering because her teenage daughter wanted all of them to visit a family friend instead, I was stunned. Never mind the fact that I dreaded going in the first place! I just could not believe MY FRIEND would allow her daughter to make a decision that would cause the adult in the family to have to uninvite a guest. “We took a vote, and I lost,” said my friend. Excuse me? Since when is a family a democracy? So that friend is no longer my friend, all because my expectations of her were proven to be wrong, and I suddenly saw her in a different way.

We think we know people well, but we really don’t. There is a whole subterranean personality lurking in everyone. It’s just the way people are made. It’s not possible to know how someone will react or respond in a given situation until it happens.

As a result of these types of disappointments, I have worked hard to suppress and even eliminate my expectations of others. I don’t expect other drivers to be gracious on the road, so today when someone slowed down and flashed her lights to let me know she wanted to let me enter a line of traffic, after 20 cars had ignored me, it made my day!

I try not to take anything for granted, so I thank members of my family for taking out the trash, or making dinner, or running an errand. It’s too easy to start to expect those things and I don’t want to do that, both because I don’t want to be disappointed and also because I don’t want the good-deed-doer to feel unappreciated. Being thanked never gets old!

My children have taught me a lot about how to handle expectations. I learned they can’t read my mind, and it’s stupid to feel hurt if they didn’t know I was expecting them to clean up the kitchen before I got home from work. I thought they should know that I wanted them to do that. But even if I asked them to do it the night before, there was no reason to expect they would understand I wanted them to do it the next night.

With the help of a great therapist, I learned that I had to TELL people what I expected of them, what I hoped they would do. It’s really hard! There are often things we wish someone else would convey on our behalf, but when my marriage started to unravel in 1996, there was no one around to say, “You know, boys, your mother would really love flowers for her birthday,” or anything like that (of course, part of the reason the marriage unraveled was that he was so out of it that he wouldn’t have said it even if he were there!).

I had to overcome my discomfort at stating my wishes, and teach my children what I hoped for in various circumstances. It felt demanding and obnoxious to do this, but I tried to tell myself it was a good lesson for them for future relationships. Conversely, I made it a point to tell them what I didn’t expect, so they wouldn’t feel bad about tough choices.

This year, for Mother’s Day, I told MOS-32 that I did not expect him to visit me on The Day, because it was my DIL’s first Mother’s Day and celebrating HER was of the highest importance. I remember how many M’s Days I spent with my MIL, and how I hated it.

MYS-27’s fiancée’s family lives in another state, so I told him that I understood if she wanted them to travel to see her mom on The Day. I didn’t say these things to be a martyr – I really felt it. I knew they would do something “in homage to my momage,” as my friend puts it, and I was not disappointed.

This was an amazing Mother’s Day in that regard. Each son created his own special event for me, and my stepson, who has been struggling with what my role ought to be in his life (he has lost a lot of “moms” and is understandably confused about what that word even means) took me to the movies, out for ice cream, and gave me such a beautiful card that I can’t even look at it without crying.  I had no expectations so each celebration was especially touching.

I have come to realize that all any of us wants is to be known by our family members (and friends, perhaps), and that is exactly what my children showed me this Mother’s Day. It was all the more meaningful because I had no expectations.








9 thoughts on “No Expectations

  1. This is a tough one, particularly as it relates to the expectations that we have of our spouses. Like you, I have learned that I can’t expect people (my husband) to read my mind and that if I really need something, I have to be VERY (crystal) clear about what it is that I need. I have also learned that there is a fine line between communicating, lecturing, and nagging, and sometimes I cross over to the wrong side of that line, unknowingly. I suppose that’s why marriage is not easy…


  2. I have a hard time with this one. I often feel like my expectations are not met, but in the daily mundane tasks of life. I feel like once I have told you my expectation of a task being accomplished, I shouldn’t have to say it again. BUT, I have also been learning that I need to be more appreciative when those tasks get done, even if I had to ask a million times 🙂 I have been really struggling with trying to find the balance between not burdening others with my unspoken expectations, but also not just piling all of them and others onto myself.


  3. Ooh, I have this problem, too! I have very high expectations of myself AND of everyone else, whether they know it or not. I’m constantly being disappointed by others even when they have no idea. I actually had a friend “break up” with me because she said my standards for friendship were too high. Wha?? I know it’s a problem but I just can’t seem to drum up the will to change it. My expectations are not so much about how to be a perfect mother (no such thing) but more about what’s right and wrong, how you behave in the world, how you treat others, manners and such. Sometimes my logic is along the lines of, “Because you just don’t do stuff like that, that’s why.” Anyone not raised in my household may not know of these concrete rules BUT I DO. 😛


    1. I’m with you, Jen (are you sure we’re not related?). It’s totally about right and wrong, how you treat others, and, of course, GRAMMAR and USAGE!!! That is a good example of an area where I just cannot let it go. My son posted an article about people who “peddle” their bicycles! No one cares what they put into print. No editors any more. But I digress.

      Anyway, it’s one of those things where you travel along life’s highway feeling disappointment and pain until you get to that place where your vulnerability is doing you in, and then you have to find a way to stop the bleeding. I wasn’t able to drop the expectations until I was well into my 40s, and even now it’s a struggle. I have little conversations with myself where I say, “Wow, I’m so disappointed and hurt,” and then I respond to myself by saying, “But is that because you were indulging in some unreasonable expectations?” Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it’s no. So I still get hurt a lot, but way less than before. It is always a work in progress.


  4. I loved this post and your perspective Randi. I too have been really investigating expectations and have come to believe that reducing our attachment to particular outcomes leads to happiness and letting go of expectations is freeing. You are so right, we have no idea what is in someone else’s mind and we can’t predict other people’s behavior. Tying our happiness to the behavior/actions of others always leads to disappointment because in my opinion, happiness comes from within anyway. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thank you so much, Michelle. I wonder why it’s so hard to let go of expectations — why do we seem to be hardwired to have them? Someone just told me that he is upset that his ONE-YEAR-OLD isn’t talking yet — we have expectations even of babies!
      I agree that happiness comes from within, but it took me YEEEEEEARS to learn that, so good for you. I also believe that we must learn to love ourselves, because it’s another protection against disappointment and hurt. In the final analysis, there is only one person I can rely on, and that is me. I know that sounds bleak, but as you say, it’s also very freeing!


      1. I love that we are talking about this! I don’t know why we have such a hard time letting go of expectations. I wonder if this is more of an American thing? Our society does a really damn good job of telling us our whole lives that we should be a certain way (whether it be related to how we look, how we parent – just about EVERYTHING!). I get these emails from baby center each week that tell me what my kid should be doing at her age and I stopped reading them because I found that they made me worry about things that I wasn’t worried about until THEY told me what I should be expecting. So I think that it’s hard to let go of expectations when all around us we are being told TO expect certain things. Just kind of thinking about this and typing… Also, I don’t think your conclusion is bleak at all, I think it’s logical and is the only way to inner peace.


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