If on Thanksgiving I came to the table expecting to be served mashed potatoes swimming in butter, succulent turkey paired with flavorful gravy, pumpkin pie and the rest of the trimmings and was given instead macaroni and cheese, I would be disappointed. My failed expectations could cause me to despair over the food on the table instead of being grateful for something to fill my hungry belly.I find that most of my sorrow lately comes from unfulfilled expectations.
I find that most of my sorrow lately comes from unfulfilled expectations. I expected at 21 when I married my husband, a life of joy and partnership. I built the idea in my head that I could create the family I longed for and never had. I could, with this wonderful man, have children and together we would raise them and watch them set off on their own paths in life and then somehow have the time in retirement to travel and hold hands and eventually grow old together.I have discovered two fallacies in my beliefs. The first is that if you make good choices bad things will not happen to you. The second is that my happiness is dependent on my family.
In no moment did I imagine a life of mental illness that left my spouse unable to participate in family life and eventually in his choosing to take his own life. My expectations were not met and with that wiping of expectations, I floundered trying to find my way through the day to day activities that surrounded me.
I have discovered two fallacies in my beliefs. The first is that if you make good choices bad things will not happen to you. The second is that my happiness is dependent on my family.
I shone brightly as a child and young adult. My choices were stellar, leading me to scholarships in college, high honors, graduation and further accomplishments in teaching and as a mother. I was that crazy mom that did preschool at home because I loved teaching my own children. I read and still read to my children every night before they go to bed. I made homemade bread. I went to church, often on my own due to my husband’s mental illness. I took care of everything at home because my husband was unable to help due to the debilitating effects of depression. I served in small and big ways. I rocked this world! I figured that eventually everything would right itself and the storybook ending of “happily ever after” would naturally fall into my lap.
How wrong I was!
It’s not a bad thing to desire and hope for good things but it was foolish of me to expect that nothing would go wrong in my life if I made good choices. People get cancer. Those people are often exceptional people, ones you would love to have around the dinner table with you. People have debilitating diseases that cause seizures, loss of body function, heart attacks and so on. Sometimes businesses fail despite best efforts and planning. Sometimes careers end due to outside forces. I cannot believe that every person who gets a difficultly in their life has paved that path with poor choices.
Now I know, that despite good choices, life is going to be difficult. Even so, I still have hope that things will work themselves out.
Most days I find something to bring me comfort or joy. It’s not always easy, but tonight I found myself outside on my porch watching the purple sky fade away. Peace came to my heart giving me hope that I could handle one more day of dishes, finances, laundry, children, fights, messes, homework and uncertainty. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people so things will naturally go awry. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people so things will naturally go awry.
The second fallacy was more difficult for me to accept but in the same breath I am grateful for the lesson learned. My family cannot be responsible for my happiness. Happiness is something we find ourselves.
After my husband’s death, I realized that I had believed that if I just worked hard enough I could MAKE my husband happy. I could not. He proved that when he took his life. Then I tried and overcompensated with my children to try and fill the role of Dad before and after his death; thinking I could somehow fill that gap and provide them with a “normal” childhood. Finally, I have realized that it is not my job to make my kids happy, and it is not the job of my family to make me happy. It is my job as a mother to teach them skills, to allow them to pursue hobbies, careers and relationships that can bring them joy. It is my job to nurture those same skills in myself. My happiness is found in the peace of a good job, a kind word, a beautiful sunset, a well written book or a smile. I find my joy and that makes all the difference.
Those I love in my life will walk their own paths. On their journey they will make choices. Those choices will determine their peace or confusion and their joy and their sorrow. If I am only as happy as my happiest child, I could find myself in despair. I cannot control their choices anymore than I can control the wind, but what I can control is my reaction to life. My joy cannot be in others.
I know that I have dreams and hopes that will never come to fruition and that will cause me to be sad for a moment because of unmet expectations, but I also know how to adapt and with that skill I can turn a difficulty into a joy. Besides, who doesn’t love a good homemade mac and cheese dinner?