Great Expectations in Motherhood

Recently, I attended an event with my husband. I had been looking forward to it for awhile, so when we found a sitter for the kids, I went fully prepared to have the time of my life. Instead, despite the fact that absolutely nothing went wrong and the event was lovely, I felt disappointed. I expressed to my husband how I had imagined things going better than they did and that I felt a bit let down.

After listening to my disappointment, Seth gently said, “You know, I think sometimes your expectations are just so high that reality can never meet them.” Although I felt tempted to protest, I couldn’t. I knew he was right. I am frequently guilty of holding unreasonable expectations of myself, others, and life in general. This inevitably leads to feelings of frustration and disappointment.

I approached motherhood with high expectations, too. Before my first child was born, I had a lot of expectations about how she would sleep, eat, and behave. I had expectations for myself about how I would make decisions, discipline, and nurture. And I had expectations about what motherhood would do for me: how it would fulfill, delight, and complete me. We all come to motherhood with expectations, although probably not everyone plans and dreams to the extent I do.

Our expectations affect our joy and contentment, which is dangerous because many times, they are faulty or unreasonable. They are often affected by the culture we live in, the media we consume, or the others in our social circle, rather than by a realistic understanding of the world. Over the last seven years of being a mom, I have many times felt let down by motherhood. It didn’t immediately transform me into someone patient and gentle. It hasn’t always fulfilled me. It doesn’t reward all my efforts the way I imagined it would. This can be disillusioning.

But what’s the solution? Forget expectations altogether, refusing to hope for anything at all? No, that attitude is equally unhelpful, leading to disinterested apathy which is something no mom who wants to fulfill her task faithfully can afford.

We can’t just forget about expectations. Instead, we have to adopt correct expectations. When we turn to Scripture, we see what to expect in the Christian life, including:

Trials. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

Persecution. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” 2 Timothy 3:12

God’s presence. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” 1 John 4:15

The Spirit’s empowering to withstand temptations. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” 1 Cor. 10:12

Fullness of joy. “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11

Sometimes we feel ripped off in motherhood because we are expecting something like ease or satisfaction which God never promised to give us in the first place. The solution is found in reorienting our perspective toward reality, the truth promised in his Word.

This reorientation is not a lowering of our expectations, but actually a lifting of them. We stop hoping for temporal goods and blessings that will pass away—long naptimes, perfect health, feelings of fulfillment—and we start expecting eternal gifts, the kind that cannot spoil or fade. As we take hold of truth, our desires transform from hoping that our kids will fill us up or that motherhood will slough off our rough edges to wanting to honor God in the role we’ve been given. We embrace our circumstances, knowing that in all things, God is working for the good of those who love Him. We stop panicking if things don’t seem to be going well, because we know that it is through these difficulties that God is accomplishing the end to our highest hopes and expectations: that we will be found good and faithful servants when we meet him face to face.

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