“Peace begins when expectations end.” Sri Chinmoy
Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend about family dynamics. She was having some challenges with her boyfriend’s family demands and expectations. He comes from a very traditional family where there are clear, defined and strong expectations (demands) for how one should live, work, spend money, spend (lots of) time with family, date, marry, have and raise children and much more. He is the first in his family to integrate more into western culture and date a western woman. His family is having a challenge with his way of life and he is caught in the middle.
I started thinking about how that related to my own family. We are of Scandinavian descent, and have been in the US for 4 generations now. If you asked me before I was married and had kids I would say that my family is very open and doesn’t have the kind of rigid expectations that many do that come from very traditional cultures.
However, when I got married I found out that my family DID have strong expectations that they didn't even realize they had. I was very excited about being married, but not super into all the popular traditions that came before. I was also working a ton of hours and treating my wedding like any other event by checking things off my to-do list without bringing my family members along. I didn’t think it meant much to them if they were there when I tried on dresses or made certain decisions. Which I later realized was not the case.
When I had my son it came up again. I realized loud and clear that my family had strong expectations for certain things (his birth, circumstances in which they would see him, how often). I don’t think they fully realized how they had wanted things to go until a situation would arise and I would cross a line that we didn’t know existed.
When my son was born I wanted to just have my husband and doula present at the hospital. My thinking was if my family was in the room then my husband would get pushed (or push himself) out. The hospital had a TINY waiting room so they requested we ask our family to not arrive until the baby was born. Some of my family arrived early anyway to be there to support me, and ended up in the waiting area worried for over 12 hours. I didn’t know they were there for the first 7 hours after they arrived. By the time I heard they were there I was at 9.5 centimeters, literally thinking I was going to die, and couldn’t process bringing them in the room. After constant massive contractions (and no drugs) for another 4 hours, my 9lb 7oz son arrived, and I was the happiest mom ever!
Now being the rational person I am a year later I know that I wouldn’t have died if they came in our room. It likely would’ve helped! They were hurt that I didn’t want them to come help once I knew they were there. They had wanted to support me and felt that I was keeping them away from my son and the experience. While I understand now (due to hours of processing conversations) where they were coming from, at the time my thoughts were not on them and their feelings at all; my thoughts were purely on survival and my baby, and honestly resentment at their new expectations at such a vulnerable time.
For me it has been a frustrating, hurtful, eye-opening experience to have those that I love and count on the most suddenly upset with me about something I wasn’t able to see coming. They also didn’t realize some things meant so much to them until they happened a different way, and their expectation was not met.
This situation and others like it have brought my family closer as we all decided to lean-in to the discomfort, process our frustration and hurt, and get clear on our expectations. But it sure as heck isn’t a fun process!
I can see where there could be a comfort in having strong, loud and clear family and cultural understandings. Although tremendous pressure, as a member of the family or culture you know very clearly what the expectations are. If you know you are not going (or don’t want) to meet them, you have the opportunity to address and reframe the expectations (although I'm sure it's not that simple in real life). It would alleviate the slight paranoia I have now that there are emotional landmines I could set off at any time.
I know now as new life events happen I will be more proactive in talking with my family about their expectations and hopes for how things will go. I think it’s taught all of us to pay attention to what our hopes are, spoken or not, and to speak up when something is not feeling right. Also to have grace with each other if someone unknowingly crosses a line, to take a deep breath and communicate.
How do expectations work in your family? How have you navigated them when big life events happen? Love to hear from you in the comments.