The burden of expectations tends to fill our lives.
For example, we walk into motherhood thinking – I’LL be the different one.
I can handle it all.
In fact, because we see other women around us caving to the burden of expectations, we now know the prescription to make our own experience different. Cracked the code, so to speak.
To be fair, you probably are different. Furthermore, you set your life up to address or even avoid the struggle you see others face. Good. This means you are observing, learning, and evolving.
However, the crux of the problem is this. The internal burden of expectation always exists.
Did you notice I haven’t even mentioned career yet and all of the mom guilt and juggling of schedules? And the super irony of this – we’ve touched so far only on motherhood and career. How many other identities are layered on top of these two in our expectation of self?
Which then makes it understandable how we are plagued with the burden of expectations despite our best efforts. Not only from those around us either, but also our own incredibly pressuring expectations.
While this may sound a bit hopeless, I’m convinced we do have the ability to face those expectations head on and put them in their place. Eradicate the feelings entirely, probably not. But get them in check through a few relatively simple steps? Sure.
THE PERFECT FAMILY DOESN’T EXIST
It doesn’t. I mean, even Full House eventually found Aunt Becky in jail.
All kidding aside though, if perfection is what you are going for, then I guess I will be the one to break it to you… YOU ARE SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR FAILURE.
We fail forward. In all aspects of life. Family is no exception.
Even as recent as two years ago, I probably would have disagreed with this sentiment.
However, in talking to more and more women and getting a glimpse of their life experiences, there is a common thread. Even in the women who seem to have it all together consequently there comes a tipping point where she shares a burden from family life.
FAMILY- BURDEN OF EXPECTATIONS
At first, I didn’t recognize the trend. Then slowly, an awareness of this universal trait in women emerged.
The problems vary as great as the Indiana weather in the spring. But just as sure as a 50-degree temperature swing in 24-hours, family issues arise.
“There it is,” I think to myself.
To clarify, I mean this from a place of ZERO judgment. It’s just very freeing to finally recognize perfection doesn’t exist.
Instead of a crazy pursuit of this vision of excellence, there is now an opportunity to allow grace. Additionally, breakdown our thoughts in the burden of expectation and understand them in a more powerful way.
I’ve found for me, it’s no longer about the end goal or the happily ever after. It’s about the journey. It’s about all of the steps I have to take along the way that get me to the finish line. Sure, the finish line is important, and I want to earn that sense of accomplishment, but if I don’t remember or treasure the work I put in to get there, I find it is far less meaningful.
The journey. What would it look like to shift focus from the end goal of perfection to the micro moments happening in the here and now? Furthermore, what does this do for your own sense of joy to dial down your burden of expectation?
HAVE FRIENDS WHO CALL YOU OUT
Comparison-itis, as I like to call it, sure can do a number on our well-being.
One way to break this comparison cycle is to ensure you have friends who will call you out on your ridiculousness.
In addition, if you find yourself in a room of friends and everyone constantly agrees with you, it’s maybe time for a self-check. Despite the validation you are receiving, you actually might be in the wrong room.
Find people who will call you out on your sh*t.
Call you out when comparison-itis is getting the better of you on a particularly low self-esteem day. In particular, tell you when you’ve gone from your normal borderline crazy self to full on coo-coo town in your own expectations.
CALLING OUT THE BURDEN OF EXPECTATIONS
For example, I love to entertain. No, I’m not necessarily a fancy host with charcuterie boards and fine china appetizer plates.
However, I do enjoy my own level of perfection for the event itself. In fact, I’ve been known to go into overdrive with re-painting a room, cleaning all base boards, making ridiculous portions of food, studying guest nuances to make what they like, ensuring all food groups are covered for a meal, shall I continue?
I have several friends who will call me out when I’m headed into overdrive with my own expectations. In particular, my sister is great for a dose of reality in my ridiculous pursuit of perfection.
And I appreciate it. The burden of expectation for a perfect Thanksgiving meal can get ridiculous (read: borderline psychotic).
She’ll give me a knowing look of where this is headed and say something along the lines of, “I think it’s fine Heather” to my complete freak out moment.
“I can assure you no one is looking at your baseboards, will you fricking chill out?!”
While she has stopped short of a good movie scene two smacks across the face – “get – it – together – woman!”, I’m certain it has crossed her mind on more than one occasion.
Left to our own accord though, it’s natural to be unaware of the hole we’re in. In the confines of that hole, all the evidence we see continues to feed into our need for perfection.
On the other hand, having someone to call you out on your sh*t gives you new perspective. Who are your people?
FIND WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO AND PURSUE IT
Life is short. We don’t necessarily think that in our 20s. In our 30s, we’re too caught up in surviving to realize. Then in our 40s, we have an urge to do something else, but life gets in the way (ironic right?).
While I’m being very general here, my point is – with each decade we come up with excuses for not doing the thing. For not pursuing whatever it is tugging at our heart.
Think for a moment about all the things you would do if you had more time. In fact, jot it down now.
Next, instead of reading the list as “I don’t have time for…” read it as “I’m not prioritizing…”
Last summer, we were getting ready to head out on vacation in two weeks. Completely caught up in wrapping up work stuff, getting us organized, making the pet boarding reservations, ALL THE THINGS.
A new car was on the horizon for me. The infamous Biscuit car was acting up and on the verge of a breakdown. Definitely zeroing in on her retirement.
However, I said “after vacation and summer, we’ll figure this out. Absolutely no time for that right now.” The Universe had other ideas. Driving on the interstate 10 days before leaving on vacation, the Ford Edge called my bluff.
Suddenly, the thing I didn’t have time for became THE biggest priority. We had to find a car in a couple of days. Low and behold, my calendar moved around to prioritize for the car search and buying a new car.
Time is an excuse. Switch the phrase “don’t have TIME” to “I’m not going to PRIORITIZE” and see what changes for you.
IT’S HARD TO JUGGLE CAREER AND MOTHERHOOD
DUH! Of course it is!
I mean this in a respectful way, but are you wallowing in the “this is hard” and “I’m a victim” mindset here?
If so, I’m now your friend who is going to call you on your sh*t. It sounds like you need a self-check.
Betty Friedan said it best. “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.”
Our burden of expectations can force us into the hole of thinking all our identities need to be done to perfection simultaneously. Nope.
I’m venturing to guess you plan 26 hours’ worth of activities for yourself in a 24-hour period. Hmmm.
Pick your things. Think of life in seasons. In fact, the things for your season RIGHT NOW, very likely won’t be the things for you in a year, three years, maybe 5. Cool. We change. We evolve. In other words, get over yourself (respectfully, of course) and look through the eyes of grace in the mirror.
Jen Hatmaker’s book For the Love has a reference I love about life as a balance beam. YOU get to decide what’s ON THE BEAM and what’s OFF THE BEAM for you right now.
If it feels off for you in your heart, KNOCK IT OFF THE BEAM. Stop “should-ing” all over yourself with the burden of expectations and get clear on what you want. Life is short, remember?
SUMMARY- BURDEN OF EXPECTATIONS
If the burden of expectations around career, motherhood, volunteering, being social media worthy… all the things are getting the best of you, PAUSE.
It’s time for a self-check of the load on your balance beam. What identities and values are key for you right now? Where are those being fulfilled? And where are they in direct conflict daily?
Shifting from thinking we will outrun our burden of expectations to instead working with them is pretty darn powerful.
First, what happens to you mentally when you finally admit to yourself the perfect family doesn’t exist?
Second, who are your people that are going to support by calling you out on your sh*t?
Next, what are you going to re-prioritize and stop with the excuse of time?
Finally, what’s ON THE BEAM for you and what are you going to shove OFF THAT BEAM with a big ole’ grin on your face? Take THAT expectations!
You’ve got this.
It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.
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