Expectations: Part 2 (The very honest part)
So after my ranty post last week, it’s time for some honesty.
As I have previously said, I have high expectations. Very high expectations. Maybe too high expectations. I believe that if a job is worth doing it’s worth doing well. And in stark contrast to when I was growing up, when people would always comment, ‘Ah, she gets there in the end!’ things for me now need to be very immediate. I expect results, quickly. (That’s why I hate trying to lose weight, it never bloody comes off as quickly as I’d expect, or would like!)
So when I first got pregnant I naturally had expectations. Of the pregnancy, of the birth, of what being a parent would be like. And with my first, and every baby after, those expectations changed, and were either challenged, or exceeded.
To begin with, when I was 24 years old, I didn’t expect to fall pregnant. Nor did I (Unsurprisingly!) expect the father of the child to say that I was a ‘slapper’ (I wasn’t) and that the baby couldn’t possibly be his. Several long and lonely months and one rather expensive paternity test later (funded by the father, not by Jeremy Kyle) I was proved right. Then, I expected things to change. I thought the hard work was over and that I wouldn’t be alone in this anymore. That he’d be around. But I shouldn’t have expected anything like that. After a pregnancy where he saw me only twice and wasn’t present at the birth, I was silly to expect him to want to get involved. He didn’t. At all. He went to Crete for a holiday when our daughter was three weeks old, saying he was stressed about being a father and needed time out. *Insert own swear word here* So…he was in Crete, sunning it up, and I was awake 24 hours a day feeding a dependent little baby. I was exhausted. And felt isolated. I remember one particularly difficult day, when my Aunt came round to meet my daughter. She held her and said, ’She’s gorgeous, I bet you can’t stop looking at her.’ And I smiled, an empty smile, and said, ‘Of course.’ But inside, all I was thinking was, ‘Actually, I could quite easily stop looking at her.’
Don’t get me wrong, I loved her, very much, but as many new mums are I was exhausted, and completely and utterly overwhelmed. I would think, ‘What have I done, why can’t I settle my own child, what am I doing wrong?’ The health visitor wouldn’t even let me fill in the mental health questionnaire at my six-week check. She said I was obviously depressed. (No s*** Sherlock) But no support was offered. No anti-depressants, no counseling, no nothing…oh, except a half an hour visit to teach me the basics of ‘crying it out.’ My baby girl was just six weeks old. And I was told that crying it out was the only option, my only option, and the only solution to my problems. No recognition of the fact that I was doing it all completely on my own. That I was exhausted and doubting myself. That most of all I needed support, and encouragement, not some hideously awful method that leaves both you and your baby in even more tears and a worse state afterwards than you were before. But I was desperate, and against all of my instincts I followed the health visitor’s advice. One night my daughter cried on and off (with me going in regularly as instructed of course) from midnight until five o’clock in the morning. And so did I. But agree with it or not, eventually it worked, and she slept. And I began to feel better.
I met a lovely group of mums who met regularly. We each took in turns to cry when we were together, (Thankfully our meltdowns all seemed to happen at different times!) and we were all so fantastically supportive of each other. I never expected to make such wonderful friends through having a baby. And good friends we were, for several fun-filled years. But as our lives changed, so did our needs, and our friendships sadly fizzled out. I’d never expected that to happen either.
So…I put my post-natal depression down to the fact that I was a single parent, sleep deprived and struggling alone. And it was never mentioned or talked about again. Until I got pregnant with my second baby. (This time planned!)
My daughter was 6, and I was living with my now husband. I was excited about having a baby. About having a baby with a man who wanted to have a baby with me. I didn’t expect all of the unresolved problems and emotions from my first pregnancy to come back with a vengeance. I became irritable, panicky, suffering so many palpitations that I eventually needed an ECG, which thankfully was normal. I became a jealous woman, over obsessing about some woman my husband worked with. (Yes I even checked his phone and emails) I would cry, a lot. I couldn’t seem to get a grip. My poor husband could do nothing right (Don’t get me wrong, he’s not perfect by ANY stretch of the imagination, but he didn’t deserve the abuse he was getting) and my daughter didn’t understand where the mummy she knew had gone. So pre-natal depression was diagnosed. And this time I was offered counseling. There was a waiting list of course, but thankfully not too long. Counseling was hard. I regularly didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to talk about myself yet again. (Which is MOST unlike me!) I had light-bulb moment during session four, where I realized that I was subconsciously expecting my husband to be as big of an arse as my daughter’s father. That I was taking out all of my hurt and anger on him. And annoyingly now, even as I write this I’ve never been able to stand up to my daughter’s father, to tell him what I really think of him. He’s in her life now, every other weekend and I’ve left it up to her to make her own judgments about him. It’s not my place to tell her I think he’s an *insert own insult here* I should perhaps tell him one day though.
Anyway, my first son was born and it was wonderful. He slept better than my daughter had and I had a man there to help in the middle of the night. (Plus an iPod with games which I hadn’t had the first time!) I had however, expected to breastfeed. I tried. So hard. And he kept losing weight. So formula top ups were suggested. After only 3 days. My milk hadn’t even come in yet. But they worked and thankfully he gained weight. My milk came in and I stopped the top ups, expecting it to all be ok, like it had been with my daughter. (Well, until three months when some idiot on his mobile phone driving a massive lorry crashed into my car and the stress of the accident caused my milk to disappear overnight) But it wasn’t ok. My son lost weight again. My big hungry boy either wouldn’t latch on properly or my stupid boobs wouldn’t work properly, or the crash did untold damage. I had no choice but to continue the top ups and mixed feeding, and did this until he was twelve weeks old. I never expected to feel guilty about not fully breastfeeding, I was always and still very much am pro-choice, but I still do feel guilty. It’s not as easy as they say it is. It’s bloody hard work and it doesn’t always come naturally. No matter how hard you want it to work and no matter what you do, sometimes it just doesn’t. As always the media and social websites don’t help, often comparing formula feeding to smoking, but…I digress and once again that, is another blog post!!
So onto my third (and definitely last baby!) You’d think having done it twice before I’d be well prepared. That my expectations of parenthood and being a mum would be pretty much spot on. That nothing new could throw me because I’d been there, done it all and got the t-shirt! Oh how gloriously wrong I was. My third baby, my second son, would see all of my expectations get thrown out of the window. He would challenge them all. Every single bloody one of them. My first son had slept, and I’d coped, why on earth would I expect having this baby to be any different? But he didn’t sleep, at all. And I didn’t cope, at all. I couldn’t understand it at first, ‘But my babies sleep’ went round my head and out my mouth often. And yet he still didn’t. He didn’t do what I expected, and I wasn’t coping how I’d expected and it threw me. I spent my days unable to look at him as if I did I would have a huge panic attack. I firmly believed that I couldn’t look after him, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to stop the crying. I spent my nights desperately trying to get him to sleep, crying uncontrollably when five minutes after he’d settled he’d be crying for me again. I’d scream at my husband that I couldn’t do it, that he needed to take him away. I constantly planned how I would run away, where and when I’d go. (Middle of the night, to a friend up north) I mentally wrote the note I would write and leave to tell my husband that I couldn’t be a mum to this baby, that the family was better off without me because all I did was panic and cry and shout. I’d cling to my son during the day and not let anyone hold him because then he would wake up and the crying would start. People now say I looked trapped. I certainly felt trapped. Everyone knew something was wrong. Even me. But I just thought I was sleep deprived. That when I got more sleep I would feel better. Unsurprisingly I didn’t. Five weeks in and my son was only waking once in the night for a feed, yet I had developed insomnia, and would cry all night, unable to sleep a wink. Thankfully my health visitor recognised that I was ill. Very ill. And one day, when I was sat in my car outside the supermarket, thinking I’d rather go to sleep and never wake up again than live because life was just too damn hard, I recognized that I was ill too. And that I needed help. And lots of it.
I never expected to get post-natal depression. And when I did, so badly the third time around, I never expected to be able to get better. But I’m getting there. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been referred for CBT and art therapy and see my wonderful doctor regularly. But I’m also lucky that I have those high expectations of myself, and that I will do anything I can to get better and be the best mum I can for all of my fantastic children. (Um and yes, a good wife to that husband of mine too!) And get there I most definitely will.
Thank you for reading x
Expectations: In the case of uncertainty, expectation is what is considered the most likely to happen. An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. (Wikipedia)
I’ve worked out why I dislike softplay so much. I don’t dislike children, far from it. I’m a mum of three, and when I’m at work I am a primary school teacher. I love children; they are my passion. But what I find frustrating (especially at softplay) are the many differing expectations other parents have of their child’s behavior. And how no one’s expectations seem to be as high as mine!
It is fair to say that I have high expectations, both of myself and of others. I expect a thank you when I let a car out, or when I wait and hold a door open for someone. (I rarely get one) But is it too much to expect parents to at least partially supervise their children at a softplay? To expect them to follow the rules? Be considerate? Maybe it’s my problem and something I need to just let go of, but quite honestly it annoys me when I see children who are say, over the age of four (usually by quite a bit) in the section designed for the under fours. Often with little respect for the equipment, or said under fours. (And yes in case you’re wondering, I am one of those mums who won’t let her children climb UP the slide!) It’s not the children’s fault, they are rightly absorbed in their own world of fun, but parents often seem to turn a blind eye to their child’s behavior or, in many cases, aren’t even keeping an eye on their children at all.
There have been many incidents I have witnessed this week where I have been left shocked, and thinking about the different expectations people have of themselves as parents, and of their children. One such incident was on a train, where a clearly harassed mother loudly told her screaming, ditressed daughter (who couldn’t have been more than five) to ‘f*** off.’ And another, where a mum told her child that no, she couldn’t play on the slide as she was disgusting because she had wet herself. The mum sat looking at her phone, not even attempting to clean or change her child, while the child sat crying, attempting to comfort herself.
It made me think. Do some people not have a natural parenting instinct (I find this hard to believe), or did they expect parenting to be easier than it is? Did they expect their children to behave without leading by example? Did they expect them to comply without supporting and loving them along the way?
And where do these expectations come from? Our parents, and our parent’s parents? Or social media and parenting books? Buzzwords, trends and manuals don’t help our expectations of parenthood. As I’ve said before, guilt and anxiety are intrinsic parts of being a parent, and sadly I think these buzzwords, trends and manuals, and the people behind them, feed on those emotions and our desperate want and need to do what’s best for our children. They can lead us to expect that our babies will sleep through the night from six weeks. (er, hello…I’m 36 and still don’t sleep through the night) They set expectations we didn’t know existed. Or indeed need to exist at all.
Expectations can be dangerous. As a parent we can set ourselves up to fail or be disappointed. These high expectations are partly what led to my post-natal depression. (Aside from the massive chemical and hormonal imbalance in my brain) I was never going to meet my expectations as a mother, and was inevitably setting myself up to fail. (More on that in Part 2) And on another level it can be dangerous for our children. As a teacher I have seen countless parents who have expected their children to be more intelligent than they are. Expected them to do better than they do. And refuse to accept them for who they are. You can imagine how these children feel.
Of course expectations aren’t all bad. When something unexpected happens it can be a wonderful surprise. A fantastic moment, which reaffirms your self-belief, and bonds you closer to your children. When our expectations are exceeded it can undoubtedly bring untold joy.
So…do I perhaps expect too much? And is this why I am often left frustrated and disappointed?
I expect so!!!
Is parenting how you expected it to be, or has it exceeded your expectations?
Doubt: a status between belief and disbelief, involves uncertainty or distrust or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, an action, a motive, or a decision. (Wikipedia)
What is it that makes us doubt ourselves and our natural parenting instincts?
I took my daughter swimming with a friend the other day, and sat and fed the baby (little pool was full!) while they had fun splashing around. There were several other parents there, all talking VERY loudly about their little angels and it got me thinking…
How many times have I sat at a toddler group, or the (dreaded) softplay, or read something on Twitter or Facebook and doubted myself after listening to or talking to others or reading their statuses? With social media and more parenting experts and advice than ever before, there is too much access into other people’s lives and how they are bringing up their children, too many opinions and techniques. Every aspect of parenting has been researched, often with each piece of research giving conflicting advice. It’s no wonder we doubt ourselves.
Parenting seems to have become so complicated and so competitive, about so many different things. The classics being whether or not your baby sleeps through the night, or when they crawl or walk, or learn to read the entire works of Shakespeare. It was teeth with my daughter. Everyone kept telling me how many teeth their babies had cut. My daughter was 18 months before she cut her first tooth. (And then it was the top one that hung down like a fang!) But it didn’t matter that she wasn’t the first to get teeth, or probably the last! They all flipping get them eventually.
Anyway, I’m going off the track slightly. What worries me about this competitiveness is that, whilst I luckily trust my instincts and although many ‘well meant’ comments (mostly from strangers at toddler groups and updates on Facebook) as to how I bring up my children frustrate me, I am able to listen and then continue as I was, knowing what is best for MY children; but there are many mums out there who listen and then doubt themselves and feel like they are somehow doing something wrong. Or they take this advice and then end up doing something that potentially isn’t right for them or their child.
I always try to remember that whilst advice is often well meant and given with the best of intentions, and has undoubtedly worked for the person giving it (and yes, in the past, I have been that person!) chances are it might not necessarily work for you. And sometimes (not always or indeed most of the time!) I think that this advice is being given not for the receiver, but for the giver, so they can then quash their own self-doubt and say to themselves ‘Ha! I did something right. Something worked and I’m going to tell the whole damn world!’ It helps to reassure them that they are coping, are in control, on top of things! (I’d just like to point out here that the world is full of lovely people who give fantastic advice that is genuinely meant in a supportive and caring way!! There are just a few who don’t, and even the most well meant advice could make you doubt yourself!)
Someone recently commented to me that they felt so intimidated at toddler groups. That everyone seemed so in control and as if they all knew what they were doing, whereas she felt she didn’t have a clue and doubted everything that she was doing. And this too got me thinking. Do we really ever know what goes on behind closed doors? Are people always as in control as they seem? Do all people who look like they’ve got this parenting malarkey sorted really do? I doubt it!!
I’m very much a person who wears their heart on their sleeve and if I’m not coping then the whole world pretty much knows about it. I doubt myself regularly, but I always fall back on my instincts. When I am thinking rationally, I can let the frustrations of these toddler groups or Facebook updates go, I can make my own decisions. Sometimes it’s a case of trial and error, but my babies and I have always got there. It can be difficult not to give in to doubt, and to have the confidence to trust our instincts (and my recent battle with PND pushed my instincts to breaking point, but that’s a whole other blog post!) especially when there is almost too much advice for parents around these days. But do it and you will feel so much more relaxed as a parent…and your children will be more relaxed too.
So, do you ever doubt your instincts?
INSTINCT: Any behavior is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience (that is, in the absence of learning), and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors. (Wikipedia)
A wise woman once said to me that never has parenting been more complicated and difficult than it is now. And that wise woman (yes, alright, it was my mum!) was right.
Parenting is now analysed from a million different angles, and labels are put on things that don’t need, nor have ever needed labeling. Motherhood can without doubt be overwhelming, not just the first time you become a mum, but every other time after that too. (My third was definitely my most challenging!) Phrases like ‘cry it out’ or ‘attachment parenting’ and their pros and cons are regularly debated and, in my opinion, only add to the pressures of motherhood – which already has enough challenges without confusing us further.
Whatever happened to trusting our instincts? Reading our children instead of a stack of parenting manuals? When did we lose all confidence and trust in ourselves that we are instinctively wonderful parents, and naturally do what is best for our children, simply because we love them and know them better than any book?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying never to seek advice or look for reassurance, research into babies and their habits has undoubtedly helped many an overwhelmed mother, but what happens if your baby doesn’t do what the manual says it should be doing? Surely this then makes you feel even more overwhelmed? Could these manuals and labels at times actually lead us away from our natural instincts instead of helping us to nurture them?
As a mum of three I’ve parented each of my children very differently…because they are all very different. I have a feisty and confident 11 year-old daughter, a gentle and caring three year-old son, and an unpredictable 9 month-old baby boy! I’m lucky my mum instilled a fantastic sense of confidence in my natural mothering instincts. It’s not been easy, but learning to read my children and respond to their needs instinctively has been refreshing and has helped make motherhood an enjoyable and rewarding experience. (Most of the time!!)
So that’s why I have started this blog, hopefully to help others like me to have the confidence to trust their natural parenting instincts.
So…when was the last time you trusted yours?