Expectation. What a word. To some it can bring excitement, to others it can bring exhaustion. To one, it can bring fun and to another, it can bring fear. We all have expectation in our lives, whether that is how we expect our day to pan out, or how we expect our careers to pan out, whether we expect to build a FTSE100 empire before we are 30 or build a family home.
I love having a goal, a dream, an expectation. My expectation was to get married and be a mom before I was 30. I happily achieved said expectation, but did the reality live up to the dream? Not quite. Rest assured that I am happily married and couldn’t be more grateful for the blessings that have been bestowed on me in the form of my three little ones. But that doesn’t make my long-awaited expectation of the motherhood experience any less challenging.
My first son was born (relatively) easily in a peaceful water birth, but he soon made his presence known by keeping his poor unsuspecting parents awake all hours for the first three months. I expected to cherish these first few weeks of his little life as I blissfully washed his bamboo nappies (yes, really), however, these were some of the hardest and saddest weeks as we desperately tried to fathom out our new family member and survive on next to no sleep. I vividly remember one night, around 2am, when Dave and I were literally on. our. knees. and I placed our son in the middle of the bed and stepped back, not knowing what the heck to do next. In our sleep deprived state, we had tried everything, except swaddling, and this turned out to be the saving grace for our sanity, as we turned a corner and saw our firstborn sleep for more than 2 consecutive hours.
Then came the second son. Another much loved, much planned for baby, albeit with a much larger gap than I would have liked. Surgery necessitated the long wait, and my health was more important than expanding our family, but when he came oh what joy I awaited.
Only the joy didn’t come.
Don’t get me wrong, I was head over heels in love with this little one who snuggled up to me so calmly, but my heart raced as I contemplated juggling two children. I expected to breeze into motherhood second time round, but as reality set in, my fears became nerves that grew into anxieties. I soon felt so overwhelmed that I just couldn’t face being a parent to anyone, much less the precious boys I have been blessed with. All this, despite a hands-on, supportive hubby and a fantastic network of family and friends.
After five months of juggling schedules and struggling to keep my head above water, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. The diagnosis came as no surprise in the end, and if anything, it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t losing the plot and that I wasn’t a bad mother. I was not alone. Accepting the diagnosis was no problem. If anything, I almost wore it as a badge of honour to explain that actually, I wasn’t failing, I was a work in progress, and within 6 months I was back to my normal self.
PND is no discriminator of people or circumstance. My baby was wanted, planned for, prayed for. Yet when he came, I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility; the sudden influx of hormones, the sudden immersion into baby world, and the sudden subjection to his every need. I was an experienced parent, who knew what to expect, and my son was a relaxed little man, yet I was so completely overcome with emotion and anxiety that I could barely think straight. I thank God for the medical professionals who helped me through this difficult time, not to mention my faithful husband and my many friends who had journeyed this path before me or with me.
So onto baby number 3. She was no less planned for, prayed for, and prepared for than her brothers, if not she was more so. The nursery was decorated, the work schedules were created, the books were read and the home was ready, yet when she came I felt the old anxieties creep into my mind as my expectation stood at odds with my reality. There I was, with this sweet little one who fell into our arms with a smile and fell into a routine without batting an eye lid, yet I found myself feeling totally overwhelmed by the now enormous task in front of me. How was I ever going to juggle three children along with a writing career, keeping my home (and me) in a half reasonable style and state of cleanliness, oh and build a blog and write a book….. and manage more than 5 hours sleep in the process.
To raise another is the greatest privilege. As a mom of three, I can safely say this is the greatest, most rewarding role I have ever had, however, coupled with my expectations, it has caused the most pain, upset, anxiety, and, at times, even depression. A classic ‘achiever’, my character is such that I want to do everything to the best of my ability. This means holding it all together, at all times, having the tidy house, the contented babies, and the completed deadlines. My ambitious striving, of course, can be a strength, but for those, like me, who place too great an expectation on themselves, it can be a curse.
When it comes to motherhood, the thing I have craved, dreamed of and desired, I expect to succeed, I expect to flourish. I expect to sail through because I am a ‘do-er’, and ‘achiever’. I constantly measure myself against impossible standards, then wonder why I fall short. The advice I dish out to others I can barely swallow myself. The prayers I pray for friends are barely audible for myself.
Why? Because I expect too much of myself.
It is OK for a friend to fall apart, but I cannot. It is OK for a family member to need counselling but not me. It’s OK for a loved one to ask for help but I must march on. How ridiculous.
I recently read this quote from the inimitable William Shakespeare;
Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises or in modern day language; Expectation is the root of all heartache.
I put too much expectation on myself, and the resulting wave of heartache that accompanies feelings of disappointment when I don’t ‘make the grade’ hurts like heck.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to succeed, with wanting to achieve, with having a dream. New mom’s do not need to cast off all their ambitions and put their lives on hold in order to raise their baby, but friends, we need to stop putting too great expectations of ourselves. Stop trying to have the Pinterest worthy house, the picture perfect family, the insta-flawless selfie. We need to embrace our flaws, our failings, and our frustrations because this is what makes us human. And I am speaking to myself before anyone else.
So next time I feel overwhelmed, fall down or mess up, rather than just painting on my face and marching on I might just let someone in. If someone texts to check in on me or taps me on the shoulder at the school gates, I might just let them know how I am really doing. I might just say, “Do you know what? Motherhood is a gift, but man is it hard work!” I might just accept the offer of a hug, a prayer, a cuppa or a meal.
Fellow parents, let’s stop being proud and start being real, and today, this starts with me.