When I was pregnant with my son Oliver, I had certain expectations about what motherhood would be like. The first day home from the hospital we would snuggle in bed all day, contentedly staring into each other’s eyes. When he cried I would gently rock him back to sleep. Our weekends would be spent gallivanting around the city with dad, checking off activities on our long list of “fun firsts.” And at night, I’d rub lotion onto his cute, dimpled bottom, and like the baby in the Johnson’s lotion commercial he’d look at up at me with admiration and awe thinking, “gee mom, you’re the best!”
A week after our hospital departure, as I sat crying on the floor with a screaming baby, a mixture of snot and puke running down my pajamas, and an apartment that looked like it was ready to be on an episode of Hoarders, the picture perfect image came crashing down and reality hit me for the first time. And then it hit me again. And again. And again. Over and over until I had to admit motherhood was nothing like what I imagined.
My insecurities and self-doubt lurked beneath the surface slowly eroding away my confidence. Why couldn’t I always calm my crying baby? Why couldn’t I muster up the energy to leave the apartment let alone gallivant around the city? Why wouldn’t snuggles and kisses and lotion massages just make everything okay? What was I doing wrong?
The simple answer, which wasn’t so simple to accept, was I was doing nothing wrong. My expectations were so unrealistic that I could be doing everything right and still not wind up with the fairytale experience I imagined. The post pregnancy world of my dreams was orderly; I was always in control, and things happened according to plan. I forgot to factor in how unpredictable a newborn can be. It turns out that babies don’t do anything on command. They only loosely follow schedules, and all those baby books that emphasize appropriate developmental milestones, apparently my baby never read them.
Beyond being unrealistic, my expectations were counterproductive to my own happiness. I spent so much time those first few months fixated on how I wasn’t getting the motherhood experience I wanted that I missed out on a lot of great moments. Instead of chalking up Oliver’s quirks to his unique personality, I spent hours scouring the Internet trying to diagnose the “problem.” Instead of taking time to slow down and enjoy the present, I was fantasizing about the future and wishing time would speed up. Instead of allowing a relationship to develop with my son, I became frustrated that bonding wasn’t instantaneous.
I had to endure a lot of guilt, resentment, and disappointment before I began to see how harmful my unrealistic expectations were. But once I did, my perceptions of motherhood slowly changed. Frustration gave way to acceptance. Obstacles became opportunities. And all of the “would be, could be, should bes” surrendered to what really is. Changing my expectations altered my perceptions, which in turn affected my experience. I finally started to enjoy my new role as mom.
Today I still make a conscious effort to adapt my expectations based on the circumstances. Sometimes I even let them go completely. And it tends to be in the moments where I expect absolutely nothing, that I experience the most joy.
Dana is the author of With A Baby In Tow and mother to human baby Oliver and fur baby Wiz. She is passionate about her family, running, writing, and baking. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by Wildwood almost any day of the year, and you are likely to find her, Oliver, and Wiz blazing a trail.