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?