Anger, Part Two: Expectations

Two weeks ago, I started a series on anger and the reasons that spark my anger, especially with my children. I said I have four main reasons. Now that I’ve started this, though, I’ve come up with five, and I can’t believe I forgot the fifth! The first reason I wrote about was inconvenience–at the core, I tend to be a selfish woman, wanting everything to go my way. When my children get in the way of my plans and inconvenience me, I get angry. I need to teach my children manners and how not to inconvenience others, but in the meantime, I need to remember that I don’t always have to get my way.

The second reason I’ve recognized I get angry has to do with expectations.

Here’s a familiar scenario in my home: it was the end of a long, exhausting day raising and homeschooling three young children. Greg usually helps me get the kids ready for bed, but tonight he wasn’t at home due to a small group guys’ meeting. As I usually do, I went into get-it-done mode as I worked toward getting the children’s teeth brushed and flossed, pajamas put on, prayers said, and blankets tucked in around them with lights off. As usual, they went into dawdle mode as they worked toward making the process as long as possible. This was annoying, but I didn’t feel angry because I expected this to happen. Bedtime is around 8:30, but it was closer to 9:00 when I finally closed the last bedroom door. Relieved, I sank into my chair to take care of some emails, thinking, Finally! I’m done taking care of my kids for the day and now I can get some uninterrupted time to finish what I need to do. That’s when I heard a child open a bedroom door and make her way to me to tell me something I didn’t need to know–just an excuse to get out of bed one last time. Now, this was not the first time she had done this. I should have expected her to do this, but the crazy in me somehow forgets she’s probably going to do this, forgets to plan a consequence for it or a reward for not doing it. In other words, I haven’t clearly given my expectations to my daughter, giving me little excuse for what comes next: I go from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds and with an angry face and voice demand she go back to her room and not leave it again until morning, leaving her in tears.

Expectations. When I expect something to go a certain good way, and the children don’t meet those expectations, I’m shocked at how quickly my anger flares. If, however, I expect my daughter to misbehave in a certain situation, have a plan for how to deal with the misbehavior, and warn her in advance what will happen if she chooses to carry out the misbehavior, I rarely lose my temper when she does choose to disobey me.

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Why do I get so upset when my expectations are not met? I would say it has to do with my selfishness, and I think it does, but there’s something else. I know this because this scenario is familiar to me from before I had kids. It reminds me of when I used to run in high school and college. Two times I remember a coach giving me a finish line during practice and then telling me I had to go past it once I reached it. Both times I hyperventilated and had to stop. My mind can only handle well what it expects, especially when both my mind and my body are exhausted.

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So what to do? Well, I’m going to talk about the most important solution in a later post, but in the meantime I can 1) pray that God will help me be flexible and less selfish, 2) really consider whether my expectations are too high for a certain situation and adjust them accordingly, 3) plan for a scenario when my expectations are not met, and 4) express my expectations to my children along with any possible consequences or rewards.

These are easy to figure out but not always so easy to do. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth it, so that it can be said of me that I am “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Praise God that He’s teaching me these lessons!

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