Monday, August 20, 2012

We Know What We Want

A couple years ago, one of Rachel’s favorite series’ was The Backyardigans.  Who am I kidding?  I like them, too.  For those of you not familiar with The Backyardigans, five animal children live in the same neighborhood.  Their back yards join together and make for a big playground where their imaginations can take them anywhere they want to go.
One of the episodes was entitled “The Legend of the Volcano Sisters”.  In this episode, the three boys, Tyrone the Strong, Pablo the Swift, and Alvin…just Alvin pretend to be brothers who want to have a luau on a beautiful Hawaiian island.  Tasha and Uniqua are the Volcano Sisters.  These two get to decide if the volcano will erupt or not.  If they are angry, expect fireworks.
Unfortunately for the Luau Brothers, the Volcano Sisters are very, very angry.  The brothers hike up the mountain to find out why the sisters are upset, and what they can do to avert disaster.  The sisters respond:
“We know…what…we…want.
We know…what…we…don’t…want.
So get us…what…we…want.”
That, of course, is incredibly helpful…NOT!  The poor brothers are desperate to figure out what these irritable sisters want. 
“Tell us please Volcano Sisters”
“No we won’t!  Now go get it for us Misters.”

Of course all ends well.  Neither Tyrone the Strong nor Pablo the Swift figured out what the Volcano Sisters wanted.  It was Alvin…just Alvin who somehow knew that all these girls wanted was an invitation to the luau.  Invitation given.  Disaster averted.  Everyone became friends.
Wouldn’t it be nice if real life was always like that?  Unfortunately, unspoken expectations rarely have such a happy outcome.  When Rachel watched “The Legend of the Volcano Sisters” at my friends’ house, there were several other guests as well.  One of the men commented that the whole situation reminded him of his own home.  I'm sure others could agree.
Stereotypically, many people would picture a wife having certain expectations of her husband which he seldom is able to meet because he has no idea what those expectations are.  The outcome?  Imminent eruption.  I believe unspoken expectations go both ways.  Husband to wife.  Wife to husband. Parents to children.  Friend to friend.  Boss to employee. Employee to boss.  In every relationship that exists, there is the potential for unspoken expectations to wreak havoc.
We expect that someone we are close to will automatically know what we want from them.  In actual fact…they probably don’t have a clue.  Consider these examples.
Cliff’s Big 5-0
Linda is planning a surprise 50th birthday party for her husband, Cliff.  She plans to invite all the extended family, all their friends, and Cliff’s co-workers.  She is excited about the big event, and puts enormous effort into making certain the party goes off without a hitch for the man she loves. 
Cliff, on the other hand, is rather dreading the big 5-0.  He doesn’t appreciate the reminder that he is getting older.  He hopes Linda will just let his birthday go by with as little fanfare as possible – perhaps just a cake and ice cream with the two of them and the kids.  She should know he wouldn’t like a lot of fuss.  After all, they have been married for 25 years. Cliff expects that Linda will just know how he feels about turning 50 and about a big party, so he doesn’t say anything. 
Needless to say, the big day comes.  The birthday party is indeed a surprise, but Cliff’s reaction is not at all what Linda was hoping for.  He tries to act happy for Linda’s sake, but he’s not that good an actor.  Linda is disappointed and hurt.  You see, she had her own unspoken expectations.  She expected that Cliff would be as excited and happy about the party as she was.  He should have recognized all the effort she put into it and seen the party as an expression of her love for him.  When he doesn’t, at least not to the extent she had hoped for, she feels hurt, devalued, and eventually angry.  Linda blows up at Cliff after the party is over and everyone has gone home.  Cliff gets angry in return and stalks out of the house.  The volcano erupts.
Had Cliff told Linda haw he felt about turning 50 way ahead of time, he might have been able to avert the whole situation.  Seriously now, if any birthday is going to rate a major observance, the big 5-0 does.  Cliff’s expectation that Linda would just know without him saying anything that he wanted no huge celebration for this milestone birthday is, in a sense, unreasonable.  Linda’s expectation that Cliff would feel the same way about the party as she did, is also unfounded.

Hop To It
The Cliff and Linda example is one I made up.  I don’t have any firsthand husband-wife examples to give.  I do have a mother-child example, though.
My daughter Rachel is basically a good girl who can also be very strong-minded.  She knows what she wants, and her desires are usually pretty clear.  As her mother, I sometimes find myself falling into the habit of telling her to do this or that and getting upset when she doesn’t carry out instructions immediately.  After all, children are supposed to obey their parents. 
One of my old friends made a point of teaching obedience to her children.  “When do we obey?” she would ask them.  The child was to answer “Right away, all the way, and with a happy heart.”  I thought that was really good, because it connected true obedience with the heart attitude.  I still think it is a good principle.  When I tell Rachel to do something immediately, she really should obey “right away, all the way, and with a happy heart.”
However, when I overdo that type of direction, repeatedly expecting her to drop whatever she is doing to carry out whatever instruction I gave, I set her up for difficulty in doing what is asked “with a happy heart.” Thankfully, I don't think I operate in that mode very often.  But there are times. . .

Unreasonable Expectations
As I think about that scenario, it occurs to me that there may be an unspoken expectation at work.  Keep in mind that I am not talking about an occasional “Do this and do it now” instruction.  I am talking about an overload of that kind of command.  Even as I put this expectation into words, I can hear how ridiculous it is.  I think the unspoken expectation is this.
I expect that my child will be an extension of me, always ready to do what I want, when I want it, and to be happy about it.  If she doesn’t do so, she is the one completely in the wrong.

The fact is, Rachel is NOT an extension of me.  She is an individual with her own hopes, plans, and desires.  Does she need to learn to obey?  Absolutely!  Do I need to respect her individuality enough to give her time to wrap up her current activity before doing whatever is on my agenda…at least whenever possible?  Yes, I should.  If I do, then when it does come time that she really MUST stop whatever she is doing immediately, there is a much greater chance that she will be able to do so “with a happy heart” rather than a resentful heart.
I wonder if this kind of unspoken expectation might be at the heart of a host of other “unspokens” – at least between people who are closest to us.

I expect that my husband will be an extension of me, always knowing what I want and understanding how I feel without me telling him, and will respond by giving me what I want, no matter what kind of a day he has had.  If he does, I will be happy.  If he doesn’t, I have a right to be upset.

I expect that my wife will be an extension of me, always understanding what I want without any need for words.  I expect her to respond by giving me what I want when I want it, no matter how she is feeling herself.  If she does, fantastic!  If she doesn’t, we have problems.

I expect that my friend will always be there for me whenever I need him / her, no matter what is going on in his / her life.  When I face a crisis, he / she should be prepared to drop everything and help me, whether or not I tell him / her what help I need.  If he / she doesn’t do so, for whatever reason, I am justified in being hurt and angry at the failure of my friend to come through.

I am sure we can all clearly see how absurd such expectations are when we see them written out in black and white.  Even so, I wonder if expectations like these might be at the root of many of our conflicts. 
I don’t know about you, but the next time I feel irritation arising in me when someone doesn’t come through for me the way I hoped they would, I’ll try to do a heart check to see if I was laying an unspoken expectation like those above on that person.   An expectation that could not possibly be fulfilled.

Out of the Backyard
Let’s get out of the “backyard” and stop acting like the Volcano Sisters.  No more:
“We know…what…we…want.
We know…what…we…don’t…want.
So get us…what…we…want.”


  1. Aren't we glad God knows what we want and need? He gives us our needs and if we are following Him it will also cover our wants.

  2. I am guilty of having unrealistic expectations with my daughter. She's seven and unbelievably smart. Always has been. So it's easy to forget she's only seven! My hubby has to remind me to take a step back every once in a while. Just because she's smart enough to know better doesn't mean she's developmentally there yet. :-)


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