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Parenting Expectations Versus Reality

High angle view of cheerful parents having fun while tickling their daughters on sofa in the living room.

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I got married a bit later in life than I expected. I wanted to be married by 28, have fun as a newlywed for a couple of years and then, when I was ready, start thinking about having a family. Despite all my life plans, things didn’t turn out that way (surprise, surprise!). Instead, I got married at 30 and my husband really wanted to start a family fairly quickly. Honestly, I was never really convinced I ever wanted to be a mom. But I realized I would probably regret it if I didn’t have children. So hubs and I started trying for babies a year after we were wed. And the following year, we were new parents. I… Read More

I got married a bit later in life than I expected. I wanted to be married by 28, have fun as a newlywed for a couple of years and then, when I was ready, start thinking about having a family. Despite all my life plans, things didn’t turn out that way (surprise, surprise!). Instead, I got married at 30 and my husband really wanted to start a family fairly quickly. Honestly, I was never really convinced I ever wanted to be a mom. But I realized I would probably regret it if I didn’t have children. So hubs and I started trying for babies a year after we were wed. And the following year, we were new parents.

I never really thought about what it would be like to be a mom as a young girl. But after we started trying, and certainly after I conceived, I thought about it a LOT. And, if I’m being honest, I had a lot of unrealistic expectations for what it would be like. Not surprisingly, parenting hasn’t turned out at all like I expected it. Nevertheless, I don’t regret becoming a mom. I have just had to accept that the expectation versus the reality of parenting is not at all what I imagined!

Expectation Versus Reality: Parenting

Expectation:

The “terrible two’s” will be the worst stage.

Reality:

I wish this were true. Honestly, I do. But in my experience, the “terrible two’s” were just a precursor to what would come upon having a three-nager. Good grief, the tantrums! The attitude! The mutiny and rebellion of a tiny terrorist! Age two was a cakewalk compared to what three (and a bit of four) was like. And, frankly, I’m very glad I never have to experience it again.

Expectation:

I will research all the things and know exactly what to do.

Reality:

My career as an attorney was short, but my ability to research the snot out of a subject and make myself an expert is still spot-on. There are not many people that can out-research me on anything. It has come as an embarrassing surprise to me that I have been unable to crack the code of knowing ALL THE THINGS about parenting simply by reading about it. There are just some things about being a parent that have no right answers. And there are some things that take more intuition than education. And the best you can do sometimes is just wing it and hope for the best.

Expectation:

I will transition gracefully into my role as a mom.

Reality:

HAHAHA! Listen, if there was an award for the least graceful career-girl-to-SAHM transition, I would win it. Hands down. I found the drastic lifestyle change to be . . . challenging . . . to put it mildly. I had a very hard time re-learning who I was as a person after it felt like much of my identity had been stripped away. Slowly, very slowly, I began to embrace the transition and I can honestly tell you that I have learned more about myself in those early years as a mom than in any other time in my life. The growth has been mind-blowing and so rewarding. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Expectation:

Having kids won’t change my hubby’s and my relationship.

Reality:

Yes, it will. And it can also ruin a marriage if you let it. I know this isn’t what a lot of women like to hear, but you and your husband will face many, many challenges as you learn to become parents. If you are not actively nurturing your relationship from day one, your marriage could suffer. From the beginning, you need to make sure you set aside time without kids on a regular basis. During that sacred time, reconnect with each other and continue to pour into each other. You will not regret it.

Expectation:

I will not be the mom that feeds her kids crap for lunch or makes special “kid” dinners.

Reality:

In all my blissful ignorance, I had every intention of being the perfect Pinterest mom once I had kids. I planned to have the magazine-worthy nursery. The pristinely decorated and clean house. And I planned to feed my kids nothing but wholesome (organic, of course) homemade meals, which they would eat gratefully with a smile on their cherub faces. In reality, I figured out REALLY QUICK that I could neither achieve all of those ridiculous goals, nor did I actually want to when all was said and done. I did give it my best shot on the healthy food front, but then I realized a few things. First, my children are neither always grateful nor are they cherubs. Second, I don’t like to cook. And third, nuggets and corndogs every now and then aren’t going to kill them. So . . . *shrug*.

Expectation:

To be a good mom, I will always put my kids’ needs first.

Reality:

Negative. In fact, it’s the opposite, in my opinion. Yes, you do need to make sure your kids’ basic needs are being met. Feed them, clothe them, shelter them, love them. But do not sacrifice your relationship with your husband or your mental (or physical) health to meet those needs. The fact of the matter is that you are not going to be your best at anything if you neglect your needs constantly. Make sure you take your “me time” when you need it. And make your relationship with your husband a priority. In the long run, these things will be far more important to being a “good mom” than anything else.

Expectation:

Things will get easier as they get older.

Reality:

Eh . . . not so much. Yes, there are certainly things that get easier as the kids get older. The tantrums become less frequent. The inability to reason with them lessens. The amount of diapers reduces drastically. Sleeping gets better (praise the good Lord!). But other challenges tend to take the place of these things. Just as you think you’re getting the hang of it, some fresh new parenting hell presents itself. I have learned that the best response to new challenges is, “Oh, we’re doing this now? Alright then.” And then you buckle up for the next ride.

Expectation:

My husband and I will always agree on the best way to parent.

Reality:

Nope. Not going to happen, no matter how much you love each other. You were both raised by very different sets of parents. You both have very strong ideas on the “best” way to parent. Granted, you may agree on some of the big, key issues in parenting but you will never agree on all the issues that pop up as you continue on this journey. Prepare to have a lot of conversations over the course of the next 18+ years, and plan to find a way to compromise.

Expectation:

If I don’t love being a mom all the time, that means I’m failing as a parent.

Reality:

This is absolutely, positively, 100% a giant lie. And it is a common expectation versus reality of parenting misconception. You will not love being a parent all the time. And if you say you do, you’re lying. Parenting is hard work. It is also often thankless work. And you never, ever really get a break from it (even when you try). Recognize that you will have days when you dislike your role as a mom. You will have days when you dislike your kids. You will experience periods when you wish you could just fast-forward through a phase. This is all normal! And it’s okay. It does not mean you’re failing. In fact, the fact that you worry that you’re failing should tell you that you’re not. You care about your kids and you’re doing your best. That’s all any of us can do!

All of us will experience a disparity in our expectations versus the reality of what parenting will really look like. And that’s okay! If we had all the answers, where would be the adventure in all of it? Don’t forget to acknowledge when your expectations and realities don’t match and adjust as necessary. Buckle in and enjoy this crazy parenting ride!