Great Expectations (Adventures in Parenthood)
Expect: To demand that someone does something because it is a duty or seems reasonable.
We expect things. We expect things to happen, to transpire in a particular way. We find comfort in the consistency of schedule: that we can count on the regularity of certain things happening each day. Humans expect the sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening. If the sun cycle one day ceased to happen, we would be quite alarmed.
As parents, we try to be flexible. We try to roll with things, because as much as many of us try to plan or schedule our kids, kids will inevitably do what they want or need to do.
I struggle with this.
When Bug was born, I had assumed her path as a child would generally fall into everything I learned parenting Chica. I figured I could do the same thing, and that A + B would equal C. Every human life is different, though. They come into the world in different ways. They have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. And as much as I didn't want to admit it, Bug was going to be different than Chica.
Although Chica initially through us for a loop with sleep, we eventually fell into a great groove. She has, since, been a generally good sleeper. I had hoped Bug would follow suit. But this has not been the case. Bug, thankfully, never gave us the all-out screaming all-nighters like Chica did. But whereas Chica resolved these issues, and eventually began sleeping through the night around 3 months old, Bug would continue to wake at night until she was almost a year old. Whereas Chica, with some work when she was a few weeks old, fell into a predictable napping pattern, Bug has kept me guessing.
A friend's advice
Last spring, I was bemoaning this misfortune to my friend, Brie. She listened while I spoke. Brie had faced her own sleep issues with her children, all very different from the issues I worked through with my kids. At the end of my sleep-deprived rant, Brie said:
"Maybe you need to change your expectations."
My swirling thoughts stopped in their tracks. I spent a lot of time thinking about her words, even after the conversation had ended. Because she was absolutely right. I woke up each day with the expectation that Bug (at the time) would take two predictable naps each day. Yet, many days, that was not my reality. So why did I continually make this my expectation? If I woke up every day expecting this to be true, I would be disappointed. I would agonize over why this wasn't happening.
So why not just change my expectation?
The answer was simple enough: Stop expecting the same outcome, and you won't be disappointed. Yet, if the day arrives where the outcome does happen, it will be a welcomed joy. This was difficult for me, as I, admittedly, struggle with being in control (which is why the idea of schedules, of regularity, appeals to me). I yearn to be one of those people who can throw caution to the wind, go with the flow, and let the cards fall where they will. I'm not.
But I'm working on being more flexible.
So from that day on, I attempted to adjust my expectations on Bug's sleep. It helped me relax when I saw that if things didn't go they way I had previously expected, the world didn't end. We survived no worse for the wear. And eventually, Bug's sleep evolved without me spending each day struggling.
A life issue
I realized that Bug's sleep was not the only area of my life that I needed to adjust my expectations. That expectations were not just a parenting issue. Rather, a life issue.
We all struggle with misguided expectations. We secretly expect (hope?) our kids will sleep until 7am. And every day that they wake at 6am, we become frustrated. We expect the schedule of errands we've created for tomorrow to go as planned. Yet, when the unexpected obstacle arises, we are completely thrown off. And when those expectations, even those that are subconscious, are not met, we are frustrated.
The expectations can go much deeper. We expect we'll remain healthy, until the day we get an unforeseen diagnosis. We expect to become pregnant easily, until we are 8 months in with no positive test. We expect that we've emotionally overcome the loss of a loved one, but some days the pain is fresh and new. We expect our finances to remain stable, until your spouse loses his or her job. We expect the friend to be there for you, but he or she repeatedly lets you down.
Life is full of unexpected, big and small.
The current normal
So do we wake up every day frustrated with our health diagnosis or the budget that won't resolve? Or do we accept that this is the current normal? Can we set our expectations that our children will wake at 6am instead of 7am? That healing is a process, and you may wake up most days frustrated at past hurts or grieving past loses? That some friendships go through seasons, and it might be time to let go for now?
I am working on reevaluating my expectations. And it's a work-in-progress.
Stephanie Anderson is a West Chester, PA mom. Read her blog, Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom, at ModernDayDonnaReed.blogspot.com