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Carolyn Hax: If expectations bring disappointment, then are we not supposed to make plans?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: There has been talk here of “happiness = reality - expectations.” Where is the line between plans and expectations? Having a concrete plan makes it seem reasonable to expect that it will happen. And because there was a concrete plan, I may be even more disappointed when it doesn’t. I know the reality is that not every plan will come to fruition, so should I go into every plan without an expectation of its actually happening? Or is it that concrete plans are just different because expectations usually go unspoken?

— Overthinking!

Overthinking!: Ha.

I'll frame it in party terms (too soon?): You want to have people over. So, you plan. You pick a date, choose the people, plan a menu, prepare everything you want to serve. This is a concrete plan and — honest RSVPs and global pandemics willing — it's reasonable to expect your party will happen.

Where expectations aren't reasonable or useful is with visions of how your party will turn out — how people will behave, how the food and drink you offer will be received, what room they all gather in (spoiler alert: it's your kitchen, not your perfectly appointed living room), how much fun you will have. These blanks are best left unfilled-in by your imagination and freed of expectations, because the reality of what occurs will depend on more factors than you can reasonably control.

And, what actually happens might be so much more interesting and memorable than what you had in mind — which you risk missing completely if you're busy being disappointed that things didn't go exactly as you'd hoped.

Does that help?

Dear Carolyn: I’m single mom, three kids. I’m freaking out that my handling of the pandemic crises will fully shape their adult lives, and I erfed it up by not listening enough or too much or well, the list goes on. Is there a way to help them be healthy future adults who can cope with stuff?

— Mom

Mom: You are human, you were there with your kids, you tried and are still trying. Please see these as three things you want your kids to take with them into adulthood:

1. People make mistakes.

2. They are loved.

3. You are showing up.

Readers' thoughts:

· Your handling of the crisis will affect their adult lives. It will not fully shape their adult lives. You and your actions are important influences on them but FAR from the only influences.

· As a parent of two 20-something-year-olds, I admitted (and still do) when I did something wrong, like I should have been more patient, didn’t realize how important something was to them, etc. I also admitted when we were going into new territory and I wasn’t really sure how we’d do something, except that we’d figure it out together.

And we did. Making changes along the way. It was this fine balancing act — they wanted reassurance that I knew what I was doing (I didn’t always), but they also wanted to be heard. I learned more from them than I think I taught them. They are awesome people now who I would want as friends if they weren’t my kids.