What were your expectations of parenting before you had children?
Were they something like this?
Have you discovered that,
it looks more like this?
Being a parent is the hardest job there is; tedious and exhausting at times, overwhelming and humbling at others.
I remember one night at about 10 pm one of my sisters calling me from her car. Her husband was out of town and neither of her kids would stay in bed (or apparently leave any books on their bookshelves or any of the plants in their room unshredded.) After one too many attempts to return my niece and nephew to their beds, my knowledgeable, experienced, and well-supported sister ran out of patience, went to the garage, got in her car, and locked herself in. In the garage.
My sister is a great mom. She’s generous, creative, kind, energetic, and (most of the time) patient. But there she sat, in her locked car, turning up the music, calling me. She described to me as she watched her pajama’d preschooler come out into the garage and try to open all the doors of the car, including the hatch. Unable to reach her, he stood on the concrete and cried for a while. Then he looked up at my sister, waved his little hand, and said “Good-bye, Mama.”
In the email that she sent me later that night, my sister explained what happened next:
“My heart froze…Good-bye? Oh my god, my baby…What am I doing? I got out of the car, hugged him, and tucked him back into bed. And now, as I type this to you, he is at my elbow, asking again and again and again when daddy will be home. How many minutes? How many seconds? When? And just I keep typing, wondering what my next move will be…”
Later, my sister described that night as a very humbling experience. I’m pretty sure it ended with both of them asleep on my nephew’s bed.
Our parenting doesn’t always match our own expectations of ourselves. Sometimes we get it “right.” Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t even know what “right” would be. The parenting process will not be what we expect it to be. On top of that, most of the time we are given children who are not what we expected. Sometimes they have anxiety, or autism, or a syndrome, or learning disabilities. Our reactions to the mismatches between our expectations and reality of depend, in part, to our resilience. Learning to thrive, even during difficult circumstances, instead of merely surviving the reality of imperfection, or the pain of unfulfilled expectations, is possible. In the first chapter of their book, Building a Joyful Life with Your Child who has Special Needs, Nancy Whiteman and Linda Roan-Yager define resilience as “the ability to survive and even thrive in the face of difficult circumstances and situations.” They go on to discuss “seven distinct clusters of strength that are mobilized when we face difficult times.” If you want to read more, here’s a link to the book: