expectations-family-letting go

Unmet expectations

So Abram said to Lot: Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are kinsmen. (Genesis 13:8)

“You have a perfect family,” my friend Jim used to tell me. Of course, he knew the quirks and dysfunctions of my family, but it was his way of reminding me to intentionally look for the good—and to be grateful.expectations-family-letting goI was reminded of this the other day when I was praying for the people on my prayer list—a hand-written list I keep in my Liturgy of the Hours book. Some people on the list are very close to me—family and friends—and others are people I have been asked to pray for, people I often don’t even know, but who have undergone some great suffering—divorce, illness, job loss, etc.

Several of the families lost children to drug overdoses or suicides. Others have been shattered by misunderstandings, betrayal, or some other dysfunction. Illness, accidents, drugs, alcohol, mental illness—the list of things that can go wrong in a family is long.

Four years ago, I moved home to be near my family. It was a good move for me, and I am deeply grateful for the way my family (both immediate and extended) has welcomed me and created a space for me in their lives. I feel blessed by my relatives, but I know that not everyone has that same experience.

Sometimes families are like Abram and Lot who “could not dwell together.” (Genesis 13:6) Abram was wise to recognize the issues and address them, but I am not sure that happens very often. More often, I think people hold onto an image of what they think a family should be.expectations-family-letting goA friend recently told me that her brother had manipulated their mother into taking $10,000 from the bank and giving it to him. It is, of course, not about the money—whether it is $10,000, $100,000 or $10—it is about the manipulation and sense of betrayal.

Letting go of unrealistic expectations can be so difficult, but holding onto them is much more painful. Wishing and hoping that people will act in a certain way is a set-up for disappointment.expectations-family-letting goBut it must be fairly common to have high expectations for our families, because I keep meeting people who are surprised by some relative’s actions—like my friend who expected her brother to keep his hands off their mother’s money.

My family was perfect in that it was a great training ground for me in letting go. As a young child, I learned that more often than not things were not going to turn out as I hoped, so I needed to readjust my expectations. Over time, I have learned to ask God, What is the invitation in this? What am I to learn when my expectations are not met, when I am disappointed?

The lesson is usually about my unrealistic expectations, and the invitation is to let go.expectations-family-letting go






7 thoughts on “Unmet expectations

  1. annemarielom

    Powerful piece, Madeline! Our heads have lots of expectations; letting go of them is the practice most needed and often very difficult. The only thing more difficult is keeping the unrealistic expectations and turning bitter. Thank you!

  2. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    I agree Anne Marie, that bitterness is a real possibility when unrealistic expectations are not met. It is so difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that people re not going to behave in ways we think they should–ways that seem obvious. But, they often don’t and we cannot change them. We can only change our expectations. It is a tough one!

  3. Lee Woodworth Moore

    Madeline – I enjoy your pieces – this one especially. It has been about 40 years since we all worked together as family as most of us did not live close to our own – So young, so many expectations. Our lives have all have gone different directions and I have no idea what has become of the others, but I am happy to see that you have found purpose and are still seeking. Keep writing – I will keep following your journey. Lee

    1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

      Thank you, Lee. I still keep in touch with Bob Hickey and I have heard from Linda Duncan (now Merritt) in the last year or so. Bob keeps me informed of some of the doings of others (he lives in Fairfax). I feel so blessed in how my life has turned out. It has had some rocky moments, but so many more incredibly wonderful ones. God has been good to me.


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