I was talking to a friend the other day about a petty upset that I had to deal with involving a family member who I felt (rightly or wrongly) had let me down. I asked my friend whether, given the same situation, they would feel the same as I did. Their reply made me stop and think. 'Not really,' they said, 'but then I have very low expectations of other people'.
My first response was to think that meant they generally thought badly of other people, and that this was a pretty pessimistic outlook. But on talking it through further, I don’t think it was pessimistic at all and it got me thinking that there is some real value in lowering our expectations of others. This doesn't have to mean assuming they will behave badly - just that they will not necessarily conform to our (sometimes lofty!) vision of how they should think, speak or act.
So where do our expectations come from?
Usually from personal beliefs, biases or assumptions. They can stem from our own previous experiences (how it was when we were children), our individual preferences (how we would like it to be) or from wider cultural norms (what everybody else 'seems' to be doing). As parents, it's only natural to form some expectations of our children. But it's worth reminding ourselves that our children have experiences, preferences and attitudes of their own. So they may well have different views from us.
For those of us with spread out or scattered families, having expectations that are not only unfulfilled but sometimes feel completely dashed, can cause disappointment, sadness and resentment, even. Parents may have raised their family believing that their child or children will always stay relatively close. It's unlikely that they foresaw their adult son or daughter living overseas or thousands of miles away.
But different people have different values and different priorities. Some people value family ties and are keen to stay rooted in their local community or their home country, while others value independence and want to travel and see the world. Some people like the security and stability of staying local, whilst others are hungry to experience new things and new places.
It can be hard to change our expectations of our children when they choose to live abroad or a significant distance away from us overland. But if we want to keep a close and loving relationship with our adult children, we have to accept that what matters to us may not be exactly the same as what matters to them. We need to understand what is important not only to us, but also to our children - and try to respect the differences.
If you’re a parent struggling with the idea or the reality of your son or daughter (and maybe grandchildren, too) living abroad or away, try asking yourself these useful questions. Are my expectations fair? Are my expectations reasonable? Am I considering this from everybody’s perspective? When you can introduce some flexibility into your thinking, you’re well on the way to achieving a compromise and finding a healthy balance between your needs and those of your children.
The key word here is ‘balance’. Challenging our expectations isn’t just about shifting our viewpoint and seeing the situation from our children’s point of view; in the long run, it can help us as parents reach a place of acceptance and bring some peace of mind.