Today I want to get you thinking on a topic that is very personal to me, as it played such a big role in my parenting journey until now – expectations.
Now if you are one of those earth-mothers who found in motherhood your true passion and biggest calling, this blog is most likely going to leave you a bit baffled.
You probably will do better finding a site with 20 crafts to keep your kids busy on rainy days. However, if you sometimes sit crying in the middle of the night because you feel that you are messing up big-time, read along and I may offer some insight to help you unravel where those feelings are coming from.
People differ. Some of us need to plan every detail while others simply go with the flow. As far as parenting goes the latter group probably have it a lot easier. And with little children’s inherent nature of simply enjoying the moment and not worrying about the future, most children probably also function better in a more relaxed and flexible environment.
Managing expectations during pregnancy
I definitely fall more into the former category, not so much in worrying about insignificant details, but in wanting to do things the right way. I set the bar very high for both myself and the people around me. I hate mediocrity and half-ass attempts. It frustrates me tremendously when things don’t get done quickly and effectively.
I used this approach when planning for a baby. I was going to have a natural birth; it was after all best for the baby and I wanted baby to have a soft, dark, warm start to life. I was definitely going to breastfeed. I was going to only use gentle parenting methods like co-sleeping. I was considering cloth nappies (spoiler alert – that didn’t happen). I was going to raise my children with only love and attention and quality time, and they were going to have the best childhood ever. I wanted to enjoy every moment (as you get told on a daily basis, they grow up so fast). They were going to eat healthy, play in the mud, learn to use their imaginations, have very limited screen time, never see their mom giving more attention to her phone than to them, always be listened to, never be shouted at, and receive wise and loving guidance to help them become responsible and compassionate grown-ups.
The scary part is that these ‘outcomes’ were all decided on long before I had children. Working in midwifery, I was well-informed and (I thought) prepared. No doctor was going to bully me into an intervention I didn’t want. I was going to get it right.
The reality was really quite different. It ended up taking me four years and three miscarriages before I finally had my little bundle of joy. For me, pregnancy was no joy, but instead 9 anxious months praying that this baby must just be OK.
Managing expectations during birth
I had my natural birth with a midwife, and my birth plan worked out exactly as I wanted. But instead of being the calm, serene event that I planned, it was far more painful than I anticipated and I found myself completely unable to apply any of the pain relief methods I taught to parents in my antenatal classes. Instead of empowered, my birth left me traumatised and completely disgusted with and disappointed in myself.
Managing expectations with a baby
And then started life with a baby. I recently saw a photo of myself holding her in those early days, exhausted and pale and overwhelmed. The emotions hit me again. Suddenly there was this responsibility that just never went away. I loved her so much it hurt, was incredibly scared that something was going to happen to her, yet resented on a certain level what she took out of me. I developed postnatal depression. I felt like I was completely failing. Obviously I didn’t get the mothering instincts that my friends seemed to have. The worst of it was feeling so incredibly guilty, because big parts of it I didn’t enjoy at all, and I knew that the most important years of my life was being wasted because I was emotionally just not coping, not coping, not coping.
Funnily enough, one of my only rays of light in this period was breastfeeding. Out of everything I didn’t get right, this at least worked. It became the one thing that I was really proud of, and I ended up breastfeeding her for almost 3 years. I realise now how blessed I was, as not all mothers have easy breastfeeding journeys. But finally, the universe seemed to cut me some slack. I was so inspired that I started my lactation consultant course, and I still am really passionate about helping new mothers find the joy in breastfeeding.
READ MORE: Top 5 Things You Need for Breastfeeding
My daughter was about 4 years old before I started gaining insight into my situation. Despite frequently encouraging parents to be realistic about the challenges of parenting and to be gentle on themselves, I have never extended this courtesy to myself. I kept in my head my expectations, but instead of doing some editing once I actually got to the real-life scenario, I kept on judging myself by my original list and I kept on failing in my own tests miserably. I did the same with my husband, who is an amazing father in so many ways, but who also make mistakes and didn’t deal with things exactly the way I expected him to.
ALSO READ: 11 Reasons Parenting Gets Easier
We live in a society that holds parents completely responsible for how their children turn out. If you don’t buy the right toys, invest in pricey educational programmes, feed them specific foods and buy (expensive) supplements, your children will never reach their true potential. And if you make mistakes it’s going to ruin them for life. Many parents find this responsibility overwhelming. Instead of parenting books and websites empowering and enabling them, it scares them and subjects them to feelings of guilt and failure.
We completely forget the biggest determining factor in this equation – you are not in it alone. There is a baby as well with a personality, quirks, likes and dislikes, flaws, strengths and weaknesses. And this little package arrives already wrapped and sealed. Although we certainly play a role in how our children turn out, I do believe that in just as many ways they are who they are. As with any other relationship in our lives, we need to build on the good aspects and learn to accept and manage the bad ones. And it shocks one to realise that you don’t always like your children. For that matter most grown-ups don’t always like and agree with their own parents, yet still manage to have loving relationships with them.
READ THIS: We feel so overwhelmed!
My daughter was a very difficult and high-need baby, who needed input 24/7, almost never slept and whose attention-bucket was never full. She’s still an extremely sensitive little girl who gives love in abundance and finds the most joy in spending time with those around her. She is such a blessing, but sometimes she seems to want more than I can give. In my darker moment,s I sometimes wonder if I am the right mother for her at all, as I seem so incapable of truly giving her what she needs.
When my son came along in 2017 I had a completely different experience. I spent a lot of time doing actual birth preparation (this time realising that knowing all the facts does not translate to being emotionally prepared for birth). I had a homebirth that was the most amazing experience of my life. I had a lot more support as my hubby was working from home and I had a full-time nanny to assist. Most of all, I knew that those early weeks and months really do pass, that the winding and crying and not sleeping was only temporary. Most of all my son is just a much easier baby.
So what happened to my expectations? I managed my natural birth and I breastfed both. For these I’m grateful, but realise now that it’s not the be-all and end-all. I am co-sleeping, more as a survival strategy than a gentle parenting method. In fact, I am slowly giving up hope that I will every have a bed without a baby in it again! I don’t nearly spend the amount of quality time with my kids that I thought I would. Often I simply don’t know what to do with them. There is lot of things I don’t enjoy. I think very few people will enjoy not sleeping, never having time for themselves or sitting with a sick child. They don’t eat as healthy as they should, sometimes watch TV so that I can catch a break and very often have a mom on her phone or laptop (as I am typing my son is clinging to my leg and trying to hijack the attempt). I sadly sometimes shout and don’t always know how to give the loving guidance they need. I still feel guilty towards the environment for every disposable nappy I throw away.
I want to encourage pregnant couples to think about and write down their expectations of themselves, their partners, their midwives/gynaes and their families. I advise discussing these with the involved parties, to make sure that all is on board the same ship. And then, once the baby is there and things have settled, I suggest taking out the list and deciding if it still works for you. Some things you may not wish to budge on, and if that is the case you may need to work harder to make those happen. Others you may simply chuck away, if you feel that they no longer fit your new family’s dynamics.
What about those who are already parents and who feel completely inept? Yes, you are doing some things wrong, but I bet you’re also doing a lot of things right. So try to let go of the past and simply enjoy the moment with your little ones. If you can’t manage this on your own, see someone with whom you can talk it through and who can help you find perspective. Perhaps sit down together and make a new list of your values as a family and of goals you want to reach and paths that you plan to take, lists that actually take into account things like your children’s personalities and needs and you and your partners’ strong and weak parenting traits. You may find that you will probably fare far better in your own eyes, and enjoy your time as a parent far more.