Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Undefined expectations are an insidious force that undermines a caregiver’s energy and clouds her vision. Expectations are such a part of us that they often are invisible, yet daily they pull our strings, masquerading as standards, concerns, and common sense. We are steeped in our expectations of other people, of ourselves, of our community, and even of life, but scratch a bit deeper and you’ll see the mischief these expectations make.

Expectations are tricky to see because they are part of our survival system. We Need to believe in our ability to know what to expect because that tells us how best to respond. In the past this belief was the bedrock of our confidence, but during caregiving that bedrock is built on sand. Our expectations become our invisible achilles heel—they are so close that trying to see them is like trying to see the back of your head. As Pogo says, 
The New Normal

Our first faulty expectation is that caregiving is an extension of normal life so therefore our habitual success strategies will serve us. The contrary is true —it is perfectly normal for people, circumstances, and organizations in caregiving to act in unexpected ways. Caregiving is not life as usual. In fact it can feel more like a fun house in which people we know change before our eyes, frightening occurrences fly at us out of no-where, and the floor of our reality moves without warning. This is the new normal.

Question Your Expectations

To better understand this, let’s look at a common caregiver Issue, siblings.
“When my sister doesn’t come through for Mom it feels outrageous.” 
Each expectation lives within the realm of a commitment. If I am committed to having the caregiving participation of my siblings then I mindlessly leap to forming expectations of their behavior. Unfortunately I may make false assumptions about their life and how well they are coping. There may be things I don’t know. False assumptions give rise to faulty expectations, which in turn give rise to troublesome Issues. If you find your expectations escalating a circumstance to the level of an Issue, question your expectations. But how is that possible if you can’t easily see them? 

Start with the Issues

We can back our way into the discovery of our expectations by looking first at the thing that is most “in our face”, the main Issues with which we’re wrestling. To reveal your caregiving expectations, start by listing your caregiving Issues. 
“My sister forgot to visit Mom!” 
Then look beneath each issue for your expectations and root assumptions. 
“Her life isn’t that complicated, she’s a competent person, 
and she’s as committed to Mom as I am.”
Then ask yourself,
  Given who I know her to be, am I being realistic? 
What do I not know? 
Are these expectations useful? 
Is this a life or death Issue? 
Is there something that I’m not aware of not knowing?

Prioritize Your Commitments

The real gold comes in identifying your primary commitments. In this case I might state my commitment as: 
"I am committed to having family support as much as possible."
Once you are in touch with your primary commitments you can see the how best to fulfill on them. Build a commitment list and you can prioritize them. Then you can use the list as a barometer for measuring the importance of Issues when they do arise. You can apportion the amount of energy you give to each based on its priority. Your commitment list might include the health of your elder, the well-being of your family, or your own sanity. Bottom line stuff. 

With your priorities in mind, you can easily rate any impending issue on a scale with “Critical” at one end, and “No Big Deal” at the other. Ask yourself,
How much energy does this issue deserve in the greater caregiving scheme of things? 
And don’t forget to ask yourself, 
Is this issue appropriately mine to handle? 
It's so easy to take over other people’s business without thinking twice.

Now that you’re no longer sabotaged by your expectations you can change them, or re-order your priorities whenever necessary. When a legitimately critical issue shows up, you’ll be prepared to take your stand. 

Finish each day and be done with it. 
You have done what you could. 
Tomorrow is a new day; 
begin it well and serenely and 
with too high a spirit 
to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

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