Life as a new parent is impossible to enter into without some expectations. From your own survival…or childhood, to friends with kids you haven’t heard from in months; the expectations of child rearing have been forming in your mind your whole life whether you realize it or not. This article is about managing expectations as a new parent.
Expectations: Every morning I wake up, jump out of bed, and into a well-planned work ensemble. My almost two year old, he brings me coffee, and to my delight he’s dressed himself. We share a homemade muffin before strolling out the door.
Reality: I do jump awake, out of sheer terror that I have somehow fallen asleep on the couch again, and forgot the alarm. I put on whatever’s clean in my closet. I race around praying the baby doesn’t wake up or else I will be putting on mascara while he claws at my leg like a grumpy koala bear. (A cute one though).
The disparity between new parent expectations and new parent reality can be jarring. We live in a world where parenting is increasingly expected to look “picture-perfect,” which is largely perpetuated through social media. This is not reality. Managing expectations is a key component that will help you settle into your role as a new parent.
Managing Expectations As A New Parent
My favorite quote on expectations is, “When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be.” Well said, Mindy Hale!
The battle new parents find themselves entering into is, Many Expectations vs. No Experience. This is not a reality that is setting you up for a parenting fail; however, it is one that may trap you into focusing too much on what you think you’re doing wrong, instead of all that’s right.
The challenge of understanding expectations is realizing they are formed from individual experience and preconceived notions of how things should be. Relationships, careers, and personal performance are areas we hold great expectations for ourselves. When managing expectations with a spouse or other parent, your job, and your own performance, excellent communication is absolutely essential. Yes, get used to talking to yourself even when the baby is asleep, because it will happen.
Side note: Babies are notoriously unreliable communicators. You may tell them what you expect of them, but most likely they will laugh at you or wet themselves. Your expectations for yourself as a parent should be of course for their benefit but remember they have no preset expectations of you. They only know of a need, which is to be loved and cared for.
Expectations in Relationships
Parents can get so caught up in the individual duties of their new position of “Mom” or “Dad” they forget they should be working as a team. Men and women typically have expectations of how their partner should parent based on what they believe the roles of “Mom” and “Dad” are. Some ways to effectively communicate what you expect from each other could come from discussing the following:
-Individual childhood experience, what are things you hope to carry on from your parents, what things would you change?
-Describe to each other your descriptions of a mother/father
-Explain to each other how you would like to feel supported emotionally as a parent
-What is most important to each other to maintain about your relationship while caring for baby
Communication with friends and family as well is important. Let them know how they can be there for you, and when you need space. Your relationships will change, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The amount of times you call your own mother for example, will rise dramatically. It all comes full circle.
Expectations at Work
Being a working parent is difficult, there’s really no way to sugar coat it. While often the expectation today is that parents can do it all: career mogul, Pinterest-worthy creative, and manage respectively to never, ever, wear mom/dad jeans. While all these things are possible, the reality is the working parent will have to make a sacrifice somewhere.
The emotional toll that even a well-selected care-giver is spending the eight hours of day with your child that you don’t get to, can be overwhelming. After a stable work/life balance is established you’ll start to see how your child continues to flourish. It will hurt the first time you show up to daycare and your baby wont come to you or throws an epically embarrassing tantrum. Behavior like that is completely normal, it’s actually a positive sign that the child is attaching to you as they should.
Remember how babies are horrible communicators? Outside of your presence children tend to bottle up their emotions. When they see you all those feelings are released because you make them feel safe enough to do so resulting in them acting out. It. will.get. better.
Expectations of Yourself
No time will be wasted indoctrinating you into the Mom and Dad club. This happens overwhelmingly with moms. You are given a new name “Mommy.” The person formerly known as wife, sister, coworker…woman, is no longer. Strangers call you Mommy. Your mail is addressed to Mommy. Though to everyone else you have become this new creature, it’s important to remember that parenthood is a life long journey. Being a new parent will absolutely change your life but it wont necessarily change everything about you overnight. Though it may not happen right away, eventually even you will refer to you as “Mommy.”
You expected your child to be the center of your universe, but maybe it didn’t hit you fully until one of those 3 a.m feedings that you are their universe. It takes a lot of energy to be a whole universe. This will not always be the case, children very quickly, (too quickly), learn to enter their own word. During the precious time they still count on you for everything, don’t beat yourself up if you feel like all your capable of doing sometimes is being there. That’s actually your most important job, forever. Remind yourself to stay present. Remember that one day the running count of how many times you’ve read “Cat in the Hat,” will end.
It may be the oldest cliche in the book but its OK to simply expect the unexpected. The true reality of a new parent is that the experience will surpass your highest expectations in every way. Enjoy it! What most surprised you about being a new parent? Did find that you had unrealistic expectations as a new parent?