You’re probably thirty-something. You probably have a child or two under the age of four. You never knew you could feel SO MUCH LOVE, but you also never knew it was going to be THIS HARD.
There are moments of sheer delight, but they’re often separated by long, mundane hours that range from busy to infuriating. You feel guilty that you miss your pre-parent life.
You wish you never lost your temper as often as you do.
You know your spouse is supposed to be on the same team as you but often they feel like The Enemy.
But most of all, there is this nagging suspicion that you are messing it up.
Parenthood, Your Child, Marriage, Life.
You used to feel like someone who could manage stress, who knew how to handle, who had a game plan. But between discipline and diet, health and safety, tantrums and tired, you’re just not sure anymore. Not sure you can do it. Not sure that you have what it takes. You’re not even sure what exactly you’re supposed to do when your 3 year old throws their cereal across the room and breaks the bowl and now there’s glass everywhere and you lose your temper and you’re already late for work and you’re not supposed to give hidings and you ARE supposed to be calm and now they’re going to be hungry at school and neither of you are going succeed in life.
If you’re not sure what the next right thing is, how can you be sure you’ll do it properly?
You are not alone.
In the past two weeks, I’ve heard of two different couples with a small child whose marriages have unravelled. I’ve had two conversations with tearful parents of under-4’s who are at their wits end. I’ve had my own sit-on-the-kitchen-floor-and-clench-my-fists-and-hit-the-tiles moments. And I can’t help but wonder why it seems like so many of us are struggling?
So I asked my dad. I asked him about his childhood. I asked him about raising us. I asked him why he thought so many parents in our generation find parenting so difficult. Was it like this for you, Dad?
And what he said was profound…
He said he thinks our expectations are too high.
He said he thinks we’re not used to saying “no” to ourselves.
And so when we either don’t achieve the standards we think we should, or we don’t have the luxuries we used to have, we freak out. Whether it’s anger, or guilt, or desperation, we assume that because it’s so hard because we’re doing it wrong.
This really hit home for me.
Our expectations are too high.
He told me how when my folks had kids, they just knew they weren’t going to go out and socialise that much anymore. It was a given. It was normal. He observed that for myself and my peers, we generally tried to keep our lives as close to what they were pre-kids, while he seemed to think that for my folks – well, they basically just lowered their expectations of life.
Woah. Interesting theory.
I started to think about it. And I came up with some reasons why I think he may be right…
We like to think we ‘won’t let our kids change us’.
I know I was guilty of thinking this way. I saw couples with kids change, and ‘give in’, and ‘lose themselves’ to parenthood. And being the inherently selfish, usually otherwise and somewhat cynical person I am, I decided I wasn’t going to “let my children change who I am”. Come on…how many of you said something like that? So we set out on a mission not to let our post-baby life look different our pre-baby life and IT JUST DOESN’T WORK. We drive ourselves crazy trying to be the same people, have the same lifestyle, and do the same stuff.
We’ve been told we can have it all.
As a woman, I’ve experienced opportunities that were not as readily available to previous generations. Education, career, travel, domestic help, hands-on husbands. But along with those privileges comes the assumption that it’s a realistic possibility to Work Hard and Play Hard and Parent Well and Partner Well ALL AT THE SAME TIME AND EQUALLY BRILLIANTLY and that there are people out there getting this right and if you aren’t, well, what is wrong with you? The reality is for generations before us (and many women around the world still) if you worked hard, you didn’t spend a lot of time with your kids. If you had kids, you never socialised like you used to. If you weren’t working, you had less money. But we’re told we can have it all.
There is so much information. We can read any number of parenting books and blogs, and we’re exposed to so many models and theories and suggestions that we have A MILLION WAYS TO KNOW WE’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I’m so grateful for the resources that have helped me, but in every article and on every page there is something I’m NOT doing right. And I know all about it. I know every time I do something wrong and how it will inevitably scar my child for life.
I certainly don’t want to diminish the effort, love and attention you give to your kids.
But seriously, dearest fellow human.
Lower your expectations.
Or you could go Google how to be a better parent and do All The Things in all the blogs and chat about it at Wine Club and write a blog and start a Pintrest page on dealing with children’s sensory development and go on a parenting course and start another small business to earn more money so you can send them to a better school and also stop fighting with your husband.
Or you could lower your expectations.