Navigating Others' Expectations

Some of the best advice and insights I have ever received has been offered by children. In some cases, they were words actually intended as advice – ”Don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know, Sharon.” But far more often the insight had an unintended impact, a thought spoken with the clarity and conviction beautifully alive in most children.

Several years ago, I was visiting friends who have three children. The oldest, a five-year old we’ll call Adam, had been sent to his room for not doing something his mom had told him to do. After what Adam’s mom judged to be sufficient time for him to reflect on his unacceptable behavior, she went into his room to speak with him. After a few minutes, she walked down the stairs, smiling and obviously trying not to laugh. When she asked Adam why he had not done as he was told, he looked at her with a mix of impatience and frustration. “Mom,” Adam explained, “I’m an alien. Your rules do not apply to me.”

I LOVE these words, this spontaneous proclamation of individuality and independence. Haven’t we all (at times, or often) felt “alien” in our circle of friends, our work environment, and sometimes even in our family? And surely we have thought our own version of the expression “Your rules do not apply to me.” The most challenging situations seem to be when the rules or expectations are not clearly defined or expressed, those subtle expectations that so often result in disappointment and sometimes even anger.

Adam’s words come to mind now as I watch a friend and her husband struggle with their changing life together. The good news is that neither wants to live by the other’s rules, and that seems a healthy place to be. The less-good news is that they have not yet been able to take the step of defining new rules/expectations that will work for them as individuals and as a couple. It’s a familiar situation. Redefining and re-negotiating expectations in all of our relationships is important, and rarely happens by osmosis. Here are some basic questions to consider (and writing the answers is better than thinking the answers):

1. What do I truly need from ______?
2. Have I clearly communicated this to _____?
3. What does ____ need from me?
4. How do I know this? Is it an assumption on my part, or have I expressly asked?
5. Am I willing to initiate the discussion that will get this process started?

So, with thanks to Adam and his mom, I’m off to initiate some discussions of my own. Wish me luck!

14 thoughts on “Navigating Others' Expectations”

  1. Hi Sharon, what a great lesson from Adam and his Mom’s interaction! Thank you for sharing!! My current project is teaching me tons of lessons on relationships. One that is really clear is when I take time to understand the other person, the other group, the other situation and give a little to satisfy their needs – especially the need I have discovered and they least expect that I am aware of – then the effort to satisfy my needs is enhanced. Taking time to understand others, learn others’ needs, bring a little joy in other’s situation, especially when least expected seems to defer rules and expectations for grown ups and children alike. A lesson I will learn and adapt for the rest of my relating life. With love, Margaret

    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experiences and perspective, Margaret. Your work is admirable and you are making an enormous difference to so many.

      With love, gratitude and a big hug,



    1. Thank so much for your comment, Ramona. I love your thought that “I better have as much fun as I can imagine.” Imagine if we all lived our lives that way!

      With love, gratitude and a big hug,


  3. I love the concept of choosing which rules to accept-or not accept.
    I waste so much precious time churning over other peoples’ “rules”.
    It feels freeing to think of being in control of which ones to accept as “rules–and which to ignore.
    Thanks for sharing Sharon

    1. Thanks very much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Lynne. I love your candid comment – “I waste so much precious time churning over other peoples’ “rules”.” This is true for so many of the women I know and love.

      Sending another very big hug,


  4. Hi Sharon – thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts. Until recently, I only struggled with this issue on rare occasions. Now that I am in public office, I find that I often struggle between doing what I think is right for the community and doing what I need to do to maintain a good relationship with my fellow elected officials (unfortunately these seem to be in direct conflict more often than I’d like). I have found it very useful to always ask myself, “am I making the right decision for the residents?” and if I can answer yes, then I know what to do. However, I take to heart your questions as they can help me figure out how to maintain a good relationship with those I disagree with.

    1. So great to hear from you, Helen, and so excited to know that you are serving the community in a public office. I know you are doing a terrific job.

      Thanks very much for sharing your experiences and perspective with us.

      Sending a big hug!


  5. Hi Sharon,

    First off, I love this story! Kids are really great and put a lot of things into perspective sometimes. As you know, I have recently moved to a different state and taken on a new job and totally new life! I definitely struggled a lot in the beginning understanding what was expected of me, especially culturally. To be honest, I still sometimes struggle a bit! But, this has all been a great learning experience! I’ve really found that being honest and asking questions explicitly helps a lot! Hope all is well with you!

    1. Thanks very much for taking the time to share your thoughts, Katy. I love your openness to your new life, and your candor in recognizing the challenges that new beginnings can bring. You are amazing!

      Sending love and the biggest hug!


  6. Hi Sharon,
    Out of the mouths of babes, eh? Yes, I’ve learned so much from my kids over the years and even now they still teach me lessons. I thought I was supposed to be teaching them 🙂 Thanks for sharing this sweet story which reminded me of memories from my own youth as well as my kids lives, on this Father’s Day weekend.
    Hugs xoxo,

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Claudia. Yes, when we listen to kids, there are so many valuable lessons to learn. Here’s to respecting and valuing the wisdom of all!

      Hugs gratefully received and returned!


    1. Thanks very much, Angela. Nice to “meet” you and sending my best wishes!

      And as always, signing off with a hug because the world needs more caring and kindness.


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