I have them. You have them.
No, don’t bother denying it – we’re human and so we have expectations. All the time. Small and large. It’s our thing. It’s what we do.
I expect I’ll drink a coke with my next meal. Small expectation, yes. But also? Highly, highly likely.
Still, I’d also like to go on record as having admitted here and now that I had a big ol’ whopper of an expectation.
A parenting experience expectation.
To be honest, I can’t remember all that it entailed. I can’t remember the specifics of what I thought it would be or all the ins and outs of it. I just know that it was glossy and lovely and generally speaking (and so it turns out) delusional.
Yes, delusional – that was apparently me. Highly, highly delusional.
And to be brief and to the point (who are we kidding over here? I am neither brief nor to the point in most of my posts)…
I think in my minds eye, parenting a child involved lots of pretty goings-ons. Lots of cute clothing. Happy moments followed by happier moments followed up by sweeter moments. I think there were a lot of snapshots running through my head prior to May 2008. Lots of family vacations, ooh-ing and aaah-ing and baby toes and sweet smelling baby lotions and happy family videos where everyone is waving at the camera and kissing cheeks and smiling. Lots of that, for sure. Holidays were just, well…unbearably amazing in my visions. Playdates and bedtime and bathing and strollers in the mall…and swapping mommy-advice with the other mothers in the play area and smiling and saying “oh yes, we do that too” or “really? I should try that!”
Those were just some of the expectations I had. And they were all rolled together into one pretty little package. All rolled up and ready to be lived out day by glorious day.
That is, until I actually became someone's mother. Or two someone’s mothers.
And please pass a bucket of cold water right about there in my experience.
Because that’s what it felt like. And to be honest, it still feels like that a lot of days. Cold bucket of water – right over my head and all over my fairy-tale expectations.
When I meet expectant mothers, adopting or pregnant, I am loathe to rain on their happiness parade. Truly I am. But there is a stirring inside of me that wants to shout out “SHARP LEARNING CURVE AHEAD”. Something churning in my woman’s heart that wants to take them by the arm and hug them for a solid ten minutes for what they are about to go through. (hello, nutter!) I don’t. But I want to. Because I’ve tried to look back and recall if someone shouted that at me. Or hugged me for ten minutes…hmmm. I know there were women who said it would be the hardest job I ever did – and I think I just took that with a grain of salt. Sadly, a grain that I casually tossed over my shoulder and kept on my merry expectant way.
And I’m not saying I would have listened to them. Oh no. Probably not. In fact, I would have been highly uncomfortable with a ten minute embrace. Ahem. But I think it’s right up there with that whole “learning to ride a bike” - where you have to just get on the bike and fall down a few times and keep getting back up and trying again until you kind of have it. Learning to swim by talking about it to death?? Soooooo not gonna happen. Right? Well, same concept with mothering. With parenting in general. You have to just jump in and get your hands dirty.
But the problem I ran into over and over again…is that somehow in my blissful expectations of motherhood, I had so completely deluded myself about what I thought it would be – that when it didn’t match that expectations I had set up for myself, (frankly, didn’t even come close) I was crushed. Still am, sometimes. Yes, I still find myself coming to terms with the reality of parenting and all that it actually entails.
I am still settling the score with my expectations versus my reality. And it’s often such a shameful pity-party – that I’d rather no one even know I have them. Rather keep it to myself what a disappointment it can be on some days. Honestly, what a disappointment I am to myself, some days. You know what I mean. Those days when you say “I thought I’d be so much better at this…” and then you take a deep sigh and imagine a deserted beach where your only job would be to read a good book and tell the waiter what kind of drink you’d like? Those days? Yes.
That’s not to say I don’t love my children. Good grief – quite the opposite. I love them beyond measure. Who they are, who they will be, that I get to see that unfold – amazing. Best gift I was ever given.
But to downplay the personal toll of giving of yourself completely to not one but two other individuals – pouring yourself out daily – sometimes losing yourself or parts of yourself in the process? It’s very sad. And I’m still coming to terms with it.
And I think it’s the baby/toddler years that can really seem to suck you dry. Being that I'm in that stage, at any rate. Still, I have yet to talk to a mother – with toddlers – who has not felt or who feels some or all of these emotions daily/weekly: Spent. Exhausted. Underwhelmed. Disappointed. Frustrated. Lost. Emotional. Out of balance. Sad. Lonely. Drained. Unproductive. Disillusioned. Depressed. Anxious. Angry. Tired. Under-appreciated.
That’s a laundry list of unmet expectations right there. And you wanna know something? I don’t have the answers. Maybe that’s why I don’t shout out my big “learning curve” speech. Because I don’t know what to do to avoid it. Nothing, I guess? I really envy – and I mean, ENVY – those women for whom this post is a bafflement to them. I envy them because they roll out of bed with craft ideas and good solutions and meal prep ideas rolling around in their heads. That is enviable. Especially if you roll out of bed, like me, wishing you could roll right back in and be left alone for 3 more hours. Especially if your idea of meal prep involves pulling back one corner of the plastic for ventilation and pressing “High” and “2 minutes”. Especially if your idea of crafting involves crayons and a coloring book. Here’s a good solution: let’s watch Dora the Explorer do crafts. There’s an idea. Surely there’s an episode about that? It's like a two for one.
For some, parenting has been 3 parts amazing, wonderful, and everything we hoped for. But there are, like it or not, those of us who pined for our children for years – only to feel 1 part amazing/wonderful/everythingwehopedfor and 2 parts uh-oh.
You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to agree with me. That’s ok.
But I can guarantee you, that someone reading this is just so relieved to hear someone else say it.
To be validated in their utter loneliness of mothering. Because some of us? We’re not as good at it as we expected to be. And unmet expectations? They hurt. A lot.
It takes time and more time to grow away from those unmet expectations and to learn to live in the moment. It takes time not to beat yourself up for not loving it the way you thought you would.
That doesn’t mean you don’t love the child or children, although even that may be a struggle for some mothers.
What I mean to imply is that for some of us, it takes time to love motherhood and all that it entails.
Maybe not for you. But definitely for me. And maybe for you.
Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever really love the tantrum phase. No. Definitely no.
Or all the poopy diapers.
Or the lack of sleep.
That’s all I’m saying.
It hasn’t come super naturally to me. And maybe it hasn’t come super naturally to you either. And maybe you needed to hear that because it’s super taboo to admit it.
Because then you run the risk of mean people saying things like “well then why did you even want to become a mother in the first place? Didn’t you know it was hard work?”
To which we say “I had great expectations….”