Our resident ‘dad’ explains why he let go of his own parenting expectations.
As a new parent, I often compare myself to who I was before parenthood.
Sometimes I look back fondly to the days of being a care-free college student at 22. When the future felt like it was full of unlimited potential and all my time belonged to me. Other times I’ll look back with relief, glad that the angsty teenage years are long over and how I wouldn’t go back to those days for anything.
On our way to becoming parents, we had expectations of the parents we would become. Those expectations come from places like society, pop culture, and the perceptions of our own parents when we were kids.
Some of those expectations we take with us into parenthood and after being hard on ourselves for not meeting them, we come to realize that no one actually has this parenting thing figured out.
The job is hard enough as it is without trying to live up to some impossible standard.
Here are a few expectations I decided to let go of:
Being the Super-Provider Dad
My son’s arrival was a bit of a surprise.
After hearing the news, my wife’s parent’s (girlfriend at the time) offered us the opportunity to live with them until we figured out our next move.
It was a huge help to us, but it came with a bit of pride swallowing.
A new outlook
Parents, especially Dads, want to give their kids a life as good or better than they had. As I accepted the help from family, the next logical thing to do was to become depressed over how I have already let my family down for not already achieving the house and picket fence a kid “deserves”.
I would feel uneasy explaining my living situation when it came up in conversation. I’d judge myself for not working harder, being smarter or being better at picking lottery numbers. I’d walk through suburban neighbourhoods with nice houses wondering if I would ever be able to give my family all this.
Why I let it go:
It wasn’t uncommon for my son to get plenty of presents around Christmas and Birthdays. My wife and I had big families and he was one of the only babies at the time. It also wasn’t uncommon for a relative to get him an expensive toy and find him having way more with the cardboard box it came in instead.
I quickly realized, my kid doesn’t care how big our house is, how nice our car is or how expensive any of his toys were. He was happy with what he had.
It became obvious that the support we received was more valuable than some ideal lifestyle borne out of family sitcoms.
Plenty of new families need help when they get started and we were lucky enough to be the ones who got it. We’ve since moved out of their place and we keep working toward a better tomorrow. If he can be happy with things the way they were, then so can I.
Confusing a love of parenting, with the love your child
The second I held my newborn son in arms, I immediately thought, “Oh, this is why my parents cared so much about me wearing a helmet when I was riding a bike. I get it now.” The feeling was this overwhelming desire to protect and love him. It’s an amazing feeling that I can’t compare to anything.
However, there are parts of parenting that aren’t loveable. For example, on more than one occasion, my son has punched me in the eye and laughed about it. I don’t know how his little fists manage to find the most sensitive part of my face, but his dexterity is surprising. I’m holding my eye in pain and he is laughing his ass off.
Adjusting to an infant’s sleep schedule made my wife and I so tired, I found myself medically fascinated that a person can actually achieve this level of fatigue.
The abrupt shift in lifestyle can take its toll on your relationship. Couples can go from romantic partners to business partners. Plenty of lifestyle writers and self-declared ‘sexperts’ will say you “have to keep the fires burning” and “go on dates with your spouse” and “Don’t let that passion die”. In the early stages of parenting, that was advice my wife and I didn’t want to take. Scheduled dates got cancelled and attempts at watching movies together ended with us falling asleep by the opening credits.
Money gets tight. Time is in short supply. Energy is at an all-time low.
All the pop songs, lifetime movies, and sepia-filtered Instagram photos told us that parenthood was magical. Why doesn’t it feel this way?
This is where you can get to the point of wondering why you became a parent, if you were cut out for it, or regretting it all together.
Why I let it go:
I can vaguely recall the first time my son slept through the night. He was about four months old and it was probably the best feeling I had in as much time.
It was at that point I realized that the joys of parenting and the job of parenting are two different things.
The job of parenting was never meant to be glamorous. It was meant to be survived.
Survival for your baby. Survival for yourself. Survival for your relationship. I feel like this becomes a little bit easier once you learn to let go of the expectations of parenthood being more than that in the early stages.
Babies are vulnerable. Postpartum depression and exhaustion can be deadly. Many people report become more dissatisfied with their partners in the first five years of their kid’s lives.
I grinded through it day-by-day and I got a little bit stronger. There was a time in my early twenties when you couldn’t pay me to wake up before noon, but somehow, I wake up naturally at 7:00 a.m. every morning.
There were times when I felt unsure about my feelings toward my infant son and sometimes wishing I was somewhere else, doing something fun. Then a few months later, he’s laughing, talking, and slowly becoming a person little by little.
In between sleep depravity and right hooks to the eyeball, there was plenty of joy. A few years into parenthood, those are the thing that stick with you.
So, don’t expect it to be magical. Just get through it, because it does get better.
All the parent stuff I said I’d never do
I’m not going to be one of those parents who post 1000s of pictures of their kids on Facebook. I’m not going to move out of the city and into the suburbs. I’m never going to buy a minivan. I’m never going to let my kids eat McDonald’s, give them a tablet, be an overprotective parent, stop working out, or give my kid candy after a temper tantrum.
The list goes on.
All the assumptions I had about parenthood went out the window. All the promises I made to myself about how I’d raise my son were broken.
Before we’re parents, we love to believe that our hypothetical progeny will agree to our every whim. Our kids are just a potted plant we can water and will grow up exactly the way we want.
Before kids, you were examining life from a different perspective. When they are born, that changes.
Why I let it go:
As it turned out, my son is adorable and I want to share these photos with my friends and family. Inner city apartments are too small for all the stuff a kid needs. The Dodge Caravans have surprisingly good handling. Chicken nuggets are easier to order than being an artisan chef every night. Tablets have some great education apps. Being a parent is scary. I’m too tired to work out all the time. And there are plenty of times when I gave my son a cookie, just to get him to stop whining.
Beating yourself up over the deals you broke with your past self is pointless.
Some assumptions were stupid. Some I regret letting go of, but in reality, I don’t owe my former kid-less self a damn thing.
We worry about the judgments of others, but it most cases, I think those judgments can from my own expectations that no parent can live up to.
Parenthood is a new life and we get to decide which kind of parents we want to be.
In so many ways, it’s like starting a new life. Starting over is hard enough without pouring a thousand expectations into it. It’s a journey. Some days, you’ll nail it. Others, you’ll settle for, just keeping them alive for the evening and look forward to being a better parent tomorrow.
Take the expectations off of yourself. Because your baby doesn’t have those expectations. Let us know in the comments what expectations you let go of once you became a parent.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.