Kate: I wish I could go back in time and tell my first time pregnant self that my expectations were so off point that it was kind of comical. I mean, how many times did I judge other parents before I was even one? Too many to count.
I could list off the realities vs. what I wish could have happened in the last 24 hours and the list would go something like this: my kids use screens too much, they watch too much tv, I lost my temper with them too many times, I wasn’t understanding when my 3 year old didn’t want to go to sleep in her bed by herself, end up sleeping with 3 year old next to me and an almost 6 year old in a sleeping bag on the floor, making microwavable pancakes for breakfast, not having any milk or fresh fruit until I get to the grocery store after work, getting to work late….. I mean, my pre-mom self would have been appalled at all these “misgivings”.
One thing that I’ve learned throughout my parenting journey is that reality is very different from expectation. Most of my expectations haven’t been met because I haven’t had enough support. I mean, I work, my husband works, we have 3 kids – how am I supposed to nurture them every second of every day? Is there another way to get through making dinner without screaming at them to calm down without the tv on?
Someone once told me to remember that it takes a village to raise a child. In my life, my actual village is pretty small. Most of my support (close friends, in-laws, cousins) also work and have children and don’t live with me. So, I have to rely on other ways to “get it all done”. And, if putting on the television is how you can get food in your kids bellies, then – turn it on for a bit. It’s not going to kill them.
Liz: When I imagine my pre-kid self, it’s almost impossible and my expectations seem like ethereal imaginings that were only half-formed. I always imagined having a family and loving it, that much is clear. I think the big reality check for me was that I don’t always love being in the trenches…every…single…day. I adored kids when I was growing up, loved baby-sitting (to a point) and couldn’t wait to have my own household. Then, I graduated college and got a job and established a self-image outside my immediate family. Suddenly, my sense of self wasn’t completely wrapped up in family life.
I still knew that family life was in my (hopefully, not so distant) future but the more I learned about the world the more hazy my imaginings became.
The reality is pretty intense. I always feel like I’m forgetting something, there’s always some task I’m avoiding, work is always overwhelming, one (or more) kid is always in a frustrating stage, our schedule is constantly being disrupted by illness or school breaks…the list is never ending. We have been extremely fortunate in our jobs and living situation but the more layers we add to our existence, the harder daily life seems to get.
When reality gets too real…my reaction is to simplify. We’re trying to do too much, we’re pushing too hard or we’re somehow missing the point. The constant mental juggling act (mostly in my own head) was way out of the realm of my expectations. Why do I spend more time debating and arguing with myself than any other living being?!
Kate: Oh, simplification…it can be hard to implement, but so worth it when we do. Sometimes, simplification is harder than it seems. It’s not just saying no to unnecessary things, but also keeping your priorities top of mind. It can be pretty hard to always remember that priorities when you have kids nagging at you non-stop. But, it’s important. One thing that hasn’t really varied from my expectation is that I’m still a homebody. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing things outside our house, and I enjoy spending time with others, but to truly feel recharged and “in control”, I need some quality house time. In general, we spend our Sunday afternoons for this. This is the time you can see me hanging around doing minor chores around the house, but most often we are playing games, going for bike rides, reading, or just enjoying each others company (and antics).
It took us a long time to get there, though. I mean, we are 7 years in and an afternoon of just doing “nothing” (without screens on) around the house hasn’t left me counting down the minutes until bedtime. Not too long ago, I was chatting with my mom that sometimes it’s easier to just be busy all the time with the kids. Then there isn’t boredom, which, often leads to wrestling or tackling each other off the couch. But, we stuck to our guns, we are going to have downtime as a family and gosh darn it, we were all going to end up enjoying it.
Liz: So much of this is so crucial to my sanity! I was driving home today after a crazy day at work, running late, toddler screaming in the back seat, racing traffic (why do I do this?!) to daycare to pick up more kids, then running home to make dinner and was completely frazzled shortly thereafter. My expectations of myself were way out line! Why was I holding myself to a crazy deadline? If I’m a few minutes late, they’re still at daycare…no big deal. Dinner doesn’t have to be on the table exactly at 5:30, I put that “guideline” in place. Cut to the end of dinner and we find ourselves chatting about where people come from and why we care about the earth, and we finally hit our stride. For a glimmering five to ten minutes…it was great. Then the bedtime insanity begins…
The moral of my life is just stop creating expectations for myself (and others) that aren’t reasonable! It’s crazy hard to dial things back and more difficult still to avoid things that add to the chaos. Worse still is trying to identify those trigger moments/events/activities that just make life exponentially difficult so you can avoid them in future. When something is so much a part of your every day, it’s rough trying to pinpoint what isn’t working.
So far the only thing that seems to work for me is to attempt to take those moments of fun, joy, peace (whatever term fits your situation) and figure out what WORKS or what gets you to that place. Then do more of that. For us, it’s avoiding screens and other distractions and trying to focus on what’s in front of us. Because if you’re not living for your family, yourself, and your kids, then life just doesn’t seem all that fun. And it CAN be fun!