Expectations of parenthood

Shannon and her daughter

We are very lucky to have another guest post. This time by the lovely Shannon Taylor.

Shannon is a crafting, beginner vegie-patching, freelance writing mum of two, living with a muso hubby and a pug on Sydney’s northern beaches.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anything can really prepare someone for first-time parenthood.

You know you’ll be tired. You know it’ll be hard. You know you’ll be sore. You know you will feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. You know you’ll be crazy in love with your baby and will do anything for it.

But no matter how much you expected to be tired, sore and clueless, and despite being totally crazy-in-love with your new baby, nothing quite matches the utter culture-shock of having a child of your own.

Now, I always was the maternal type. The one who, as a kid, mediated arguments, soothed boo-boos and make decisions when consulting a grown-up would have resulted in big-time big trouble.

As a teenager, I was the one who dealt with pissed-paralytic friends, broken hearts and friendship infractions. “You’re going to be such a good mum one day,” I’d always been told.

So when I became pregnant, I had no worries. I could do this! Motherhood would just come naturally to me. Mothering was what I did.

Parenting would be hard, for sure, probably the hardest thing I’d ever done. It would be relentless and I would be tired and my patience would be tested. My body would be weird.

But I would take it all in my stride, quietly and determinedly, like I had done pretty much everything in my life so far. Or so I expected.

I sailed through my first pregnancy. I felt great. Everything went perfectly. I prepared for giving birth like it was something I was going to be graded on, and was lucky to have a quick, natural birth that resulted in a divine, healthy, wondrous little boy.

So far, so good.

I muddled through those newborn days with Elliot, learning on the go, consulting the Internet way too much, and freaking out about everything. I cried a lot, but figured that was normal given the hormone festival going on inside me.

Increasingly though, I struggled with my perception of myself. I no longer felt like the calm, capable, optimistic, pragmatic person I was used to being. I compared myself to other mums and wasn’t confident anymore.

I was putting up the front of coping with motherhood, but underneath I was slipping.

On the outside I was doing well. My baby was growing and healthy. “You’re so calm,” I heard. “You’re such a supermum,” said someone else.

But I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job at all. I pushed on, coping as best I could, not wanting to seem like I needed help.

I started to realise that my permanent mental state was guilt: I felt guilty if I rested (you should be doing chores!). Guilty if I did chores (you should be resting!). Guilty if I walked Elliot to sleep (he should be sleeping in his cot). Guilty if fed him to sleep. Guilty if I didn’t read him five books a day.

I absolutely could not give myself a break. I expected way too much of myself, an in doing so, set myself up for failure.

I didn’t come to understand this though, until I was diagnosed with PND for the second time (when my second child was almost one), and I had begun to see a (fabulous!) psychologist who referred to herself as the ‘Bunnings of therapists’. She was all about giving me practical solutions to help me deal with my negative thoughts.

With her guidance, I began to see for the first time how hard I was being on myself. I expected myself to do the right thing, all the time. The effort was wearing me thin and the inability to meet my own expectations made me feel a failure.

It was hard for me to accept that I didn’t always have to do the right thing, or the best thing, and that doing the best I could on that day was enough. I learned how to stop feeling guilty.

I learned how to be kind to myself, and give myself a break.

It was such a relief! I didn’t berate myself for using the dryer (guilt factor: the environment), or feeding the kids Weet-Bix for dinner (guilt factor: vegetables), or putting on a movie for them when I was exhausted (guilt factor: digital parenting), or shame at accepting help from my friends (guilt factor: not coping on my own).

As parents, we generally do expect so much of ourselves. We expect to be able to do everything we did before, plus raise our kids. We make choices about how we’re going to parent and expect to be able to stick to these.

But sometimes we just can’t meet those expectations – they don’t work for us, or for our child, or for our families. Adjusting our expectations of ourselves doesn’t mean we’ve failed, it means we’re listening to ourselves and our families.

Understanding my expectations made room for me to see what I was doing well, and, much more importantly, made room for me to enjoy my life as a mum in a way I hadn’t been able to before.

These days, my to-do list is shorter. My house is messier. My meal planning skills are still not great. But I don’t give myself a hard time, because there’s plenty I am doing that’s just fine.


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