Round Table: Parenting Expectations
Today’s Round Table discussion is: What is one thing about parenting that is completely different than you thought it would be? Maybe you thought you knew what being a parent would be like. Maybe you didn’t have any clue and didn’t have much time to think about it. Whatever the case, leave your own remarks in the comments!
I always wanted to have children, and so did my husband, so becoming parents was not a hard decision for us. However, I was very scared about having kids because I would always hear other parents complain about their chaotic lives, or I would read articles that said that couples that have children are less happy than those who don’t. And there are a lot of well-meaning adults (parents and non-parents) who only talk about the negative aspects of having children. So even though I wanted children, I was scared at the prospect of losing my free time, and I didn’t want to me one of “those parents” who talked about their kid all the time.
Now that I have a kid, my life is very busy, and I don’t have as much free time as I used to, but I love being a parent. It’s much more fun than I thought it would be. Everyone says the first year goes by so quickly, but for me it went by really slowly, and I didn’t mind at all.
I also thought I would be a more “hands-off” parent, but in fact I didn’t even want anyone besides me and my husband to touch her for the first few months of her life. And we bed-share, whereas before having a child that is something that I never thought I would do. I’m much more into kids’ films than I used to be, and I like sharing kid stories with other parents. The non-parent version of me would think that I have been taken by the body snatchers. (Kind of like this episode of Futurama where Bender learns to love the new Robot 1-X).
I was so completely uninformed about being a parent when my daughter was born, even though I read everything in sight to prepare. The one real expectation I had did not occur and it made me feel like there was something wrong with me: I did not fall in love with my baby as soon as she was put into my arms. In fact, it took months for me to feel that way about her. This was probably a result of stress and depression — I was still care-giving for my brain-injured husband who was verbally and emotionally abusive of me, and I was right in the middle of grad school. What I mainly felt was duty. I had invited this helpless little person into my life and she was my responsibility.
If it hadn’t been for the book Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood by Naomi Wolf, I would have spent a great deal more time hating myself for being a defective woman and mother. It was such a relief to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling how I felt. There is such a taboo around speaking of motherhood in less than glowing terms. There is not a lot out there that talks about how difficult it is to graft a new aspect of your personality onto what is already a fully-realized sense of self. Becoming a mother didn’t “complete” me, and integrating this new persona of “mother” was the work of months. There isn’t a lot of acceptance for language that encompasses the work and exhaustion and totally overwhelming confusion and regret that can swamp a new parent.
I can’t say when I started to cherish and enjoy my daughter. She’s nearly 12 now and she is my primary emotional relationship, my plus one, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it didn’t happen instantly. But there was a day when I suddenly understood the concept of unconditional love, and it was because of the love I had — have — for my daughter.
I didn’t expect all that expensive crap I bought to be so worthless. I mean, like, take that convertible crib and toddler bed with diaper changing table and hamper, for example. First, the hamper had scary sharp corners at the perfect eye for the kid to fall down and lose an eye on. Then secondly, how could anyone have predicted that my son would use the changing table as leverage to haul himself up and out of the crib onto the high changing table in the middle of the night? And then, when converted to a bed, it was too high and came with no rail so he kept basically falling out of bed, onto the protective layer of blankets and pillows I had arranged) and sleeping on the floor anyway. Except for the nights when he managed to slither under the bed and get stuck and would start freaking out.
And that is just one example.
The one thing that really changed — that I couldn’t predict or appreciate — was that my tolerance for bullshit just kind of went out the door. I don’t have the time or energy to deal with all of those many things I once tended to with such patience.
And J.G. is totally right about that expensive stuff!
I typically say that parenthood is 100% different that I expected and 100% more wonderful. Parenthood for me can be summed up by saying – I do the best I can and generally things are good. Not perfect, not terrible.
I always expected to breastfeed until my children politely said – “no, thanks, mama, I do not prefer breastmilk today.” My diagnosis of insufficient glandular tissue and extremely low supply sort of made that impossible. But I did the best I could.
I never expected to bedshare. It was night 2 home from the hospital that my daughter joined us in bed. Later, our son also coslept in a side car and later in bed.
I thought the first year would be so busy…as it turns out, young infants don’t do a whole lot.
I never knew how exhausting the toddler years would be – especially before the ability to communicate. It’s like the Peace Corps all over again, except I can’t learn the language no matter how hard I try.
Then, once communication is achieved, it literally continues from daybreak to bed time…and beyond, “can I have one more drink of water, mom?”
The biggest surprise for me is becoming a single mom. I never expected to do this alone and it’s been quite the ride figuring out our new life together. As it turns out, I am doing the best I can, and things are pretty good.
The biggest surprise for me, aside from the OMG WHAT HAVE WE DONE sense of everything being turned upside down, is how much personality a newborn has from just about day one. It was completely staggering that even in that almost primordial post-fetal stage where all they really do is cry and eat and excrete things, they my son still showed signs of the actual person he would be over the next months and years. Likewise, just how different his sister was when she was born, still pooping and peeing and crying and eating, but somehow differently with her own personal spin on it.
I never expected that the more books I read, the less confidence I would have in myself as a parent. As a PhD student, I approached parenting in much the same way I approached my dissertation: read everything you can on the subject. I expected this would make me better prepared for motherhood. I was so wrong. I did not have a stereotypical “easy” baby, and every time I read about some new sleep technique and tried to implement it and had it fail my opinion of myself as a mother sank. I wish all copies of The Baby Whisperer could be burned. That one book did more to destroy my confidence as a parent in the first six months of E.’s life than anything else.
I did take away a lot of valuable information from the books I read. I learned about growth spurts and sleep regressions and wonder weeks. But I think I would have been so much happier in the early days if I could have taken Husband’s approach and just rolled with the punches rather than trying to “fix” things that probably weren’t even things. (“Babies do crazy things,” Husband would tell me. “E. hasn’t read those books. He doesn’t know that’s what he’s supposed to be doing.”)
I also was not expecting how much I would hate the newborn/infancy stage. I really struggled with being at home, but E. was such a challenging sleeper I didn’t want to take him out very much. I was so bored and so lonely and so sleep deprived. Some days it felt like my head would just lift up off of my body and float out the window like a balloon. Things got better at the six month mark when it became apparent just how rapidly E. was changing. At that point, when he could sit up on his own, I was able to embrace the idea that “this too shall pass” and stopped wanting to punch people who told me to “Treasure every moment! They grow up so fast!” But it took until E. was 16 months old (when he was at last walking, sleeping through the night and taking only one nap) for me to believe I was doing more than a “just OK” job as his mother. I came into my own as the mother of a toddler. I’d like to believe I’ll have an easier time of it if we get another chance with a newborn, but now I know if I struggle again that things do get better.
I still read every book I can about parenting. But now I have enough sense to read them with a critical eye. I can sift through the information offered and decide what is likely to work or be helpful for our family and for our son. The rest I discard without guilt.
For the most part, I have a hard time differentiating between changes brought on by parenthood and those brought on by adulthood, because I had my son when I was 20. For example, I’ve written about loneliness on this blog before. I don’t know if that’s adulthood or parenthood (or maybe a combination).
Inertia is another thing. It’s just so easy to keep on doing everything the same way and never change it up in the slightest, never break out of the mold, even though that’s not my personality at all. Some of that is a matter of money (“We’ll totally travel, even once we have the baby!”…not so much, apart from occasional visits to extended family) but some of it is just an inability to think beyond the day-to-day, except in those moments before falling asleep, looking back on the day and thinking “I wish I’d done something different today.”
On the positive side, I survived the diaper years, which was a bit of a surprise, as queasy as I am. I’ve also seen the impact that I have as a parent through my son’s language development. I speak my second language with him, and at four years old, he’s solidly bilingual. I’ve worried at times that I wasn’t reading to him enough, wasn’t speaking to him enough, but clearly I’ve done something right, and I guess that’s surprising to me.