One of the best coping skills Erik and I learned in the early days of expat living was a simple phrase, "lower your standards!" When you read that, you have to imagine it with your best game show host voice, like you're inviting someone to an exciting opportunity behind door #1. It was all about expectations. If you expect that the bathroom you've been led to out the back door of a restaurant and down a dark alley will be a picture of cleanliness, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you imagine that it will be a sufficient hole in the ground, you'll be satisfied. You get the idea.
It's called expectation management. The problem with expectations is that we are so often unaware of them. It doesn't occur to me that I would appreciate a toilet that flushes until I look up and see that the wall mounted reservoir in the back alley bathroom is partially missing and the frozen water within is still holding its shape. I can, apparently, flush in springtime.
I've been reminded lately how important it is to talk about our expectations.This is especially true with our kids. When we began summer vacation this year, they had an unspoken expectation that it would be like their three previous summers, when they spent all day, every day, outside with friends. Last summer I even had to call one mom and ask her if her kids could maybe not schedule the summer project involving my children quite as often because they weren't able to spend time with other kids. We were beating off the playdates with sticks.
This wasn't the case in Orlando. The kids they've met from school mostly live about an hour away, and others were preparing for long trips away. Within a few days we were all scratching hash marks on the walls. I finally realized we needed to have a talk about expectations with them, and we basically had to say, "lower your standards." It required a little more mourning of what they used to have, but within a day their "I'm bored" statements had reduced significantly. It's a process of looking at reality and making adjustments.
So often when I am frustrated with life it is because I expected it to be a certain way and it isn't. Many of my expectations are residual, left over from what I was accustomed to having in my "previous" life. It's helpful for me to take a hard look at the expectations I have and ask myself if they are realistic in this new season of life. Some of them might not be, and that's where I need to tell myself to "lower my standards." It doesn't mean I'm giving up hope. I think it means I'm choosing contentment.