Expectations – we all have them. They can be great creating anticipation and excitement but they can also steal your joy and even make you doubt yourself and others. Or worse yet, they can lead to an epic meltdown on Christmas Day changing everything. But let’s start at the beginning.
When I first started out on my path to adulthood, I knew God wanted me to be a mother. I loved children, worked in early childhood development and came from a huge family. I expected to have a husband and be blessed with many biological children. When I met my husband 12 years ago, he already had a five year-old daughter.
Expecting to have many children of our own, we started trying to get pregnant right away. After all, we wanted our children to be close in age to his daughter. I got pregnant about three months after getting married but lost that child, a girl, at 16 weeks due to miscarriage. Wow, that was completely unexpected, but surely it was just a bump in the road, right? My husband and I kept trying to have a baby, and after another five miscarriages, we realized biological children were maybe not in the cards for us.
Not ones to give up, we looked into adoption, both international and domestic. Although we both had good jobs, we simply did not have the resources to finance those types of adoptions. So, we looked into being foster parents. This program seemed too good to be true. Not only could we have children placed in our home almost immediately after approval, but we could also have the possibility of adopting our foster kids.
In 2010, we were approved. A month later, on July 15 at 8:09 p.m., we got the call. There were four children — all biological siblings — who needed immediate placement, three boys and one girl aged 1, 2, 4 and 6. We said yes to the placement without hesitation.
To say the least, going from a family of 3 to a family of 7 overnight was a MASSIVE adjustment. To add to this upheaval, shortly after the kids joined us in 2010, I was offered my dream job, and we moved from Nashville to Chicago. Once there, I began traveling two nights a week, every week for work. This left my husband, who was also working full-time, home with the kids two nights a week, and this routine grew stale pretty quickly.
This scenario was definitely not part of my “perfect, stay-at-home mom” expectation, but I could handle it. Fast forward two years: My family is living in Chicago with no relatives nearby, no friends, no connections and no marital support because we were working our tails off. Those two years zoomed by like a terrible runaway train that had jumped the tracks. Things were moving so fast I couldn’t even absorb how crazy our life was.
So, imagine my surprise when I was offered what was really my dream – same job for the same company only this time from home in my hometown with no travel necessary! It was the perfect situation – for me. My husband was not happy. It’s not like he loved Chicago, but moving meant leaving his job, living in my hometown and agreeing to stay home full-time with our kids. To add to his challenges, this Brooklyn native (no joke, he’s a true New Yorker) had to live in a small town without the luxuries of our city life. His unhappiness grew and soon began spilling onto all of us. I never expected to see this side of my husband. He is a fighter, a fixer and a survivor not an uncomfortable, sad, displaced person.
This brings us to Christmas 2014 and my epic meltdown. I was tired from working full time and taking care of our five kids. By this time, we had successfully adopted our four foster children and my step-daughter was living with us full time. I was sick of wrapping presents and going to Christmas parties. I was bitter about a lack luster relationship and dealing with a sad hubby. I was just done.
On Christmas Eve, I hit a wall and said, “To hell” with everything. I literally threw all the presents under the tree and got in bed. There were no stockings, no final touches, nothing.
My husband stepped up at that moment and finished where I fell down. He put the gift tags on the presents, stuffed all the stockings and arranged all the gifts in piles for each kid. You would think his actions would make me feel better. You would be wrong. I got up on Christmas morning with a bad attitude. I was grumpy all morning, so when two of my boys said they weren’t feeling well — which meant we couldn’t go to my sister’s house, the one event I was looking forward to — I lost it. I packed up our four little kids and in 15 minutes we were driving to some random town near Memphis, Tenn., about five hours away from our leaving my husband and step-daughter there. I remember seeing some cool things in the area after going to a concert there and thought the kids would like it. I didn’t know anyone; I just went for it. We had nothing but our swimsuits and some toothbrushes from CVS, and the kids and I spent Christmas night sitting on a hotel room floor, eating take-out Chinese food. It was sad.
At this point, I should’ve been saying to myself, “Casey, you’ve totally lost it. Get it together or you’re going to lose this life you’ve fought so hard for.” Surely a light bulb would go off over my head any minute, I’d realize how to fix everything and go home. But I didn’t.
We stayed at that hotel near Memphis, watched movies until late, went swimming and visited a museum. The next day, we drove to Nashville to see some old friends. We stayed in another hotel, went swimming and stayed up late watching movies again. It was actually pretty awesome.
After a night or two of cooling off, I apologized to my husband for my crazy fit and running off with the kids. Somehow, he forgave me and actually drove to Nashville to join us. It ended up being one of the most fun, family trips we ever had.
The experience also gave me some perspective on my life and my behavior. I kept asking myself, “Why do I put so much pressure on myself for holidays, birthdays and vacations? Why do I expect things from my husband that I know he can’t do? Why do I expect myself to have all this crap figured out after only being a full-time mom to five kids for four years? WHY!?!?!”
And then I figured it out — expectations. It’s these ideas I had in my mind of what I had to do to be a successful adult, the ideas I committed to in my 20’s without any investigation or forethought. I really believed the life I laid out years and years ago would be my actual life, and when things didn’t go according to that plan – those expectations — I just couldn’t handle it.
After our eventful Christmas and realizing I had set some very unrealistic expectations for myself, I changed direction. God provided me with everything I wanted — my dream job and my dream family — but I was so caught up in the way everything should happen I couldn’t appreciate what I had. My expectations turned into poison and almost ruined everything.
Now, I am setting goals instead of expectations. I have to let God work out the how. Currently, I am working on setting a goal to help people outside of our family. I have no idea what that’s going to look like, but I know God will bring me an opportunity. And rather than expect to go serve on a mission trip to Haiti and see my smiling face on the big screen at church, maybe I will bring soup to the homeless in our local area, and no one will ever know except me and God.
Note from Project Reveal: We highlighted the word expectation in this story to bring awareness to it. How many times is the words “expectation” or “I expect…” in your thoughts or words? Take it out; see how it goes.
“We build these expectations in our heads of what other people should do, what our lives should be like, how other drivers should behave … and yet it’s all fantasy. It’s not real.” – Leo Babauta.
Here’s a plan: have goals, but having expectation are when we have an outcome already planned. Life always take a different turn.
Read more about expectations: Toss Your Expectations Into The Ocean – by Leo Babauta