When Reality Doesn’t Match Our Expectations

By Elizabeth Pantley

The realities of everyday life often don’t match up to our expectations; however, this seems especially true when you become a parent. There are three main areas where our parenting expectations become out of sync with real life…

1. The Ideal Family Life

Parents tend to paint a picture of what their family life will be even before their first child is born. These daydreams idealize their future family and put focus on the many joys of parenthood. Of course, these visions and daydreams come true throughout the day, but the reality is that those wonderful moments are mixed in with the mundane or downright unpleasant moments of daily life.

Real family life includes difficult situations like a rough birth, postpartum blues, a delayed adoption, sleepless nights, a colicky baby, toddler tantrums, sibling fights, and the list goes on.

2. The Well-Behaved Child

Let’s skip right to it. Children throw tantrums, they misbehave, they talk back to their parents. They fuss, whine, fight, and test boundaries. Before we had children, we would see those behaviors in other children and think, “My child will be different.” We have this belief that if we love our child enough, he will love us back by always exhibiting good behavior.

This perception is turned upside down when reality hits, and your child throws a massive tantrum or purposefully breaks the rules. We begin to go back to our prior beliefs and think we must have not loved them enough, or must be failing as a parent. The reality is reassuring – it is normal for children to act out.

We have this belief that if we love our child enough, he will love us back by always exhibiting good behavior. This perception is turned upside down when reality hits…

Mother-speak:

“When my oldest child was two I was pregnant with our second. One day, we went out for a walk and she insisted on bringing her riding toy. The only place to ride was a ten minute walk from our apartment, so I told her that we could bring it – on the condition that she RIDE the whole time and that I didn’t have to carry it. Of course she said yes. Of course she rode the whole way there, and of course she got tired and refused to ride back. 

At this point I should have realized that I was expecting waaaaay too much of my little girl, but I was so absorbed with my own exhaustion that I got annoyed at her. I picked up her toy and lectured her the entire way home about responsibility. Yes, I know, that’s crazy. She was only two! But I did it anyway.

I don’t think any memory has ever made me feel quite so stupid before! I guess we really should keep our expectations of our children in step with reality, but in the moment that’s not always easy to do.”

Elana, mother to Choshen, age 5, Maayan, age 3, and Shmuel, 5 months

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