Expectations are powerful as they influence how we think, feel, cope and adjust to parenthood. When you go into parenthood with high expectations of either yourself, partner, baby or relationship and these aren’t met, you’re likely to struggle with frustration, agitation or resentment.

No matter what you do your 6 month old won’t sleep for long periods during the day. All you want is to have a break and drink that cup of warm tea uninterrupted. Every time she wakes after yet another ‘cat nap’ your frustration levels rise and the resentment that your partner gets to eat his lunch in peace, while you’re left scoffing leftover sandwich while your daughter cries out for you, yet again.

Perhaps you expected that your baby would sleep for long periods during the day, that your partner would be home more to help or that you would be able to get more done around the house. Each time these don’t happen you feel agitated and frustrated. Motherhood is full of many emotions and a good proportion of the agitation, frustration and resentment you feel is possibly due to your expectations not being met.

Keep reading to find out more about: How your expectations influence your mood; (2) Why new parents are susceptible to unrealistic expectations; (3) How to identify your expectations; and (4) How to shift from the frustration of unmet expectations to the freedom on parenting your way.

1. How your expectations of parenthood influence your mood

Your expectations of yourself, baby, partner, family and more, have a direct impact on how you adjust to parenthood. Some parents may expect certain aspects of parenthood to be challenging (e.g. sleep deprivation) and be prepared for that. But there are other challenges that you either didn’t expect (e.g. breastfeeding difficulties) or that you may have never experienced before (e.g. not being able to take time out after an argument with your partner).

Realistic expectations are a good thing – if we expect mutual respect in a relationship we will give and receive accordingly. But unrealistic expectations that are then unmet can lead to frustration, agitation, create unnecessary pressure and contribute to postnatal anxiety and depression (Elly Taylor). The higher and less realistic the expectations are, the more disappointed you are likely to be.

Unmet expectations can also cause confusion and distress for many parents, and it will often impact their relationship through feelings of anger or resentment towards their partner. When expectations aren’t met, people turn their focus to the closest person to blame, rather than examine the expectations themselves.

2. Why you are susceptible to unrealistic expectation of parenthood

When you’re pregnant the focus is on antenatal appointments, birthing classes and counting down to your due date. For many expecting parents very little thought is given to what life with your baby will be like.

As a society, the ways in which we typically portray parenthood is quite one dimensional, especially to expecting parents. The images and discussions indicate that parenthood is full of love, peaceful, fulfilling, calm and enjoyable. Yes, it is all of those things AND a whole lot more.

By not focusing on and openly discussing both sides of parenthood – the love and joy as well as the frustration and agitation, new parents are being let down. Because when you start parenthood with unrealistic expectations, and then experience the common challenges (that nearly all parents go through) you start to feel guilt, shame and self-doubt.

For instance, many mothers experience breastfeeding difficulties or challenges, especially in the early weeks, but when mum isn’t expecting it, she can experience a lot of distress. People talk about breastfeeding as being ‘best for your baby’, but little emphasis is on the fact that for most mothers its hard, painful (in the beginning), a journey full of ups & downs. Breastfeeding can be amazing and beautiful, but when we don’t prepare mothers for what it’s really like to learn and establish breastfeeding, she can be disillusioned.

Then when she does find it difficult, she’s at risk of feeling overwhelmed, like a failure, and doubting her ability as a mother. She is less likely to reach out for help, more likely to think she isn’t capable and give up on breastfeeding.

3. How to identify your expectations of parenthood

We aren’t always aware of our expectations and are unable to see that the cause of our frustration, agitation and resentment is due to an unmet expectation.

For example:

Towards the end of the day of looking after your baby you start to feel tired and impatient and want some help from your partner when they come home from work. But when your partner walks through the door, you feel angry, make a scolding remark about the time and how hard it’s been with the baby all day. He snaps back with “just give me a break, I’ve been at work all day” and flops on the couch. You feel disrespected and unseen. He feels nagged and unappreciated.

When we unpack this scenario, often the underlying cause is a mismatch between your expectations of yourself or your partner, and the reality of parenthood.
For instance you may have expected a more equal share of baby care and household chores. Or that your partner would be home more to help you while your baby is young. Or you may have expected to cope better looking after your baby alone all day and feel frustrated with yourself for needing a break.

Identifying your expectations takes self-reflection and a great place to start is when you’re feeling agitated or frustrated by something.

Take a moment to reflect on: why am I feeling frustrated? Did I expect something different from myself, baby, partner or community? Did I expect to have more time to myself? Am I comparing my baby to others? Am I comparing myself to other mothers?

4. How to shift from expectations causing frustration, to the freedom of parenting your way

It’s enlightening for parents in my Becoming Us Parenthood classes when we identify, unpack and let go of their unrealistic expectations. They tell me it’s like a weight is lifted as once you have identified your expectations you have the power to shift towards letting go of unnecessary pressures and towards accepting of the reality of your parenthood journey.

Questions to ask yourself to let go of your unrealistic expectations of parenthood:

  • Where did that expectation come from? Hollywood, social media, extended family
  • Is the source of your expectation reliable?
  • Does carrying that expectation lift me up towards inspired action or weigh me down?

A simple reframe can go a long way to detach yourself from unrealistic expectations.

For example

Good mothers are patient versus I will try my best to be patient with my child today

Baby’s need to fit in with their parents versus it’s nice when my baby and I can go out

Giving yourself permission to let go of your unrealistic or unmet expectations is extremely freeing and I wish for all parents the courage to do this. As once you can lead your parenthood journey, your way, and not under the weight of unrealistic expectations, you’re free to enjoy your family and embrace the joys and challenges of parenthood from a space of acceptance.

 

I am a Psychologist and Owner of Enlightened Parenthood. If you’re finding parenthood challenging and would like some more support please visit my website for more details and how to contact me HERE.