I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations. We have expectations of ourselves, of our partners, of our place in the world, of ourselves as parents and of our children. When our expectations are informed by our families, our opinions, or religious beliefs and the media (among others) how can we work to avoid having unreasonable expectations?
Being married did not bring with it a set of unrealized expectations, because the Mountain Man and I had lived together for years before being married, and pretty much acted as if we already were officially joined. We just had to make it… official. But thinking about my childhood and adolescent expectations of marriage, I had some super unrealistic ideas about what it would be like, and actual marriage turned out to be different.
- I would not get flowers on a daily, weekly, or even annual basis.
- My husband would sometimes come home from work tired, cranky, starving and disheveled.
- Even though we both worked, I would be responsible for the majority of the household upkeep.
- Logistics will begin to take over where romance once ruled.
- If my husband does bring me chocolate (or ice cream, or cupcakes) for no reason I’ll wish he hadn’t because I’m eating really well today.
- My husband might sometimes want some time alone, in quiet, when he wasn’t asked “is something wrong?” every 10 minutes until he started talking. (the silence makes me think that something’s wrong!)
- My husband may not be able to always be the sole provider for our family. We both got laid off and had to work together to make it work.
- My husband will sometimes be the sole provider for my family, which means that I am responsible for careful budgeting and controlling spending.
- We won’t host swanky cocktail parties.
- Dinner will n*******ot be on the table every night when my husband comes from work. We may sometimes have sandwiches.
- The laundry will never be done. Face it. Deal with it.
- There will be dust.
- We will not have weekly romantic dates like we did when we were young. Bills need to be paid, and the laundry isn’t done (see above).
And then, baby enters the picture. Here’s where my expectations and my reality diverged, even though I wasn’t expecting mommy perfection of myself.
- There will be an adjustment period, and it might be a rough transition.
- I won’t get a shower today. Maybe not this week.
- I will have a sudden and severe loss of memory.
- I won’t have time to make my baby all her toys, to cook every loaf of bread from scratch. I won’t finally have time to work on that project I’ve been trying to get to.
- I will smell like spit up most of the time for the first few months of my life as mom.
- If mommyhood makes me feel more like a woman in function, it may also make me feel less like a woman in spirit.
- The laundry will really, really never be done.
- As much as I see his arrival home as my long-awaited baby break, I have to remember that my husband sees his arrival home as his long-awaited work & commute break.
- Sleep wins over sex.
- We must re-negotiate our roles as partners and parents. Who does the feedings, diaper changes and baby laundry? Who picks up the toys? Who cleans up the kitchen while the other is putting the baby to bed?
- We may not (for a while) have quiet time alone to connect, snuggle, talk.
- We have to actually work to speak to each other kindly and not bicker over small things (even when I know I’m right!). Stress and sleep deprivation makes for short tempers.
- It’s easy to let disconnect become normal. Loving each other isn’t enough to make a marriage work once baby is around.
- I feel like I should be able to juggle work, volunteering, full-time baby care and house management. I can’t. I need help.
- Romance is no longer a dinner out, drinks and a dim bar and an obscure film. Now, nothing is more romantic than a partner doing a chore (without being asked.)
- Trash day will be forgotten, tabs will be renewed late, bills will be hard to keep track of.
- I’ll show up to meetings 10 minutes late without relevant materials but with bottled breastmilk, spare diapers, a change of clothes, a rattle, a pacifier and a chew toy.
- This takes forever, and before I know it, the moments are gone.
Idealism is important in a marriage and in parenting. We have to have a concept being a better version of ourselves, making a better marriage and being better parents. We have to see an idealized version of what we want and take action to improve ourselves, find ways to make our days happier, more like what we want. If we can’t see it, or at least imagine it, we can’t take steps to get there.
But with idealization too easily comes unrealistic expectation – of ourselves, our partners, our marriages, our children, our lives. When we begin to see these idealized images as reality, we begin to expect it of ourselves and begin the downward spiral of unattainable desires. We have to hold images of where we want to be in our lives, without making expectations of what we see as ideal.
How can we balance? How can we be both hopeful and skeptical at the same time? How can we be bombarded with images of perfect mommies and not wonder why we can’t get it together to be that way? It takes constant (constant) reminders to myself that those perfect images are just images, not reality, not the whole picture. I can work my butt off to get closer to my idea of my perfect life, but I have to acknowledge that I probably won’t ever get there.
Stop perpetuating the expectation of perfection. It’s unattainable, unrealistic. It’s unfair that we feel like failures for not being perfect. We don’t expect it of our friends and we shouldn’t expect it of ourselves.
And besides, once you hit perfection, having no where to go would make life pretty boring.