A few years ago, I had a dream that taught me a great life-lesson.
In my dream, my aunt Melody, her daughter, Malary, and I went together to look at an old house that was for sale. When we got there Melody and Malary went one way through the house and I went another.
It was a big old house with creaky floors and wobbly railings. The paint was chipping on the walls and the windows were painted shut, but every inch of it seemed magical. It went on forever, with hidden spaces and pretty views from every window. The house absolutely enchanted me and before I was finished with my tour, I had paint and tile and carpet and trim all picked out in my mind. I even had my furniture placed in the rooms. I had finally found my dream house.
All of this happened before I saw Melody and Malary again. It’s funny that out of all the people I know and cherish, it was the three of us who were looking at that old house together. All three of us are drawn to old things and have no problem seeing what a thing could be. In fact, I won’t speak for them, but I tend to be a little delusional and see potential right on top of reality.
So while I was dreaming and scheming on my little tour of that old house, they were doing the same thing (though I hadn’t thought of that) and when we ran into each other again, I was in a bedroom and they were in a hallway talking about their plans for the house. I was all at once crushed and angry.
Then I woke up. Do you ever wake up like that in the middle of a dream, leaving it unresolved? I woke up with those sad, mad, bad feelings… feelings that told me that somehow my aunt and cousin had stolen something from me. Didn’t they know that was going to be MY house? Didn’t they know I had plans for that (imaginary) house?
Luckily it didn’t take me long to see my dream in the light. I was still in bed when the lesson came to me.
In my dream, I had built up imaginary expectations. I’d made an elaborate plan. I’d fallen in love with that house and built my whole family into it…all without telling a soul. And then, when my beloveds didn’t intuitively know about my expectations and plans, I let my feelings get hurt. (Not only had I not shared my plans with them, but I selfishly gave no thought to their plans and feelings.)
My beloveds weren’t trying to crush my dreams or make it impossible for me to fulfill them. They would never do a hurtful thing to me on purpose.
I hadn’t given them a chance to understand. And if that were a real-life scenario instead of a dream, I could have let all that stuff that went on in my mind get between us. What a shame that would be.
The overwhelmingly powerful lesson for me was that I couldn’t possibly hold people accountable for not honoring dreams, plans and expectations that never left my mind! If I was serious about getting what I wanted, I would have to learn to express my thoughts in ways that were clear, specific and thorough. I wouldn’t be able to leave any gaps in my descriptions if I wanted things to have a chance to turn out the way I imagined.
The applications for this lesson are endless.
When my husband and I were brand-new parents (we’re still new-ish), I rarely left the house, though my husband was always very willing to do whatever he had to do so I could get some time to myself. When I first started leaving him at home with the kids, I guess I expected him to parent and keep house the way I did. I expected the children to be bathed, fed and sleeping by the time I got back. I so looked forward to coming home to a clean, orderly home…dishes done, toys and books put away…maybe he would light a candle. That would really make my night.
I quickly learned that moms and dads do things differently, and that if I kept up those expectations, I would end every night out frustrated.
It might have been one thing to say to him, “Will you try to get them to bed before I get home?” The advantage with that method is seeing how unreasonable my expectations were….. “Would you mind feeding them and bathing them and putting them to bed? Also could you do the dishes, fold the laundry, clean up the toys and don’t forget to light a candle at least 15 minutes before I get back so it smells good when I walk in the door?”
Now if I want to have an exceptional night out, I simply change my expectations and never feel frustrated when I get home. These days when I go out with my friends I imagine a worst-case scenario at home….everyone in their underpants (or diapers), toys and dishes everywhere, food splattered on the walls and – for good measure – something on fire.
You wouldn’t believe how different it is to walk into the house with those expectations than it was to walk in with the impossible ones I had earlier in motherhood. Usually I come home to find happy kids, who have been worn out from wrestling with their dad all night, and instead of seeing every undone chore, I see the best dad on the planet and feel grateful that he’s raising my kids.
And on the days that he somehow pulls off a miracle and has everyone in bed and every chore done (which happens more often than you’d think is possible), I notice every detail and am filled up with gratitude. Gratitude and thankfulness feel so much better than entitlement and an “it’s about time” mentality.
I guess the point is, when we have expectations that involve another person, the only way to get any fulfillment from those expectations is to share them or change them. Sharing them takes a lot of thought and care…it takes extra words and patience to make our visions clear.
Changing expectations is easier, but won’t be as fulfilling when the vision we have is important to us and won’t be changed.
Both of these methods have sure made a difference for me and I hope they do the same for you! I think understanding our expectations and putting them in their proper place is one of the keys to happy living, and I wouldn’t wish anything less for you.