Going into motherhood, I had quite a few expectations of what I thought parenting would be like. During my first pregnancy I read every book I could on raising kids (which I thought made me some sort of expert), I memorized sleep schedules, and basically expected my baby to conform to the ideal child who adapts perfectly to the textbook discipline, sleep training and potty training regimens that all the experts insist work. Because all kids respond the same, right?
Oh, and as much as I hate to admit it, I would even judge moms I didn’t even know who would be out in public with their kids, looking like a hot mess. I mean, how hard could it really be to prevent your kid from having a massive tantrum in the middle of the toy aisle at Target? And does that 2 year old really need a paci in their mouth? I thought they made it look harder than it really was.
Maybe I just got hit with really bad karma for judging in the first place. Or maybe I’m just raising a perfectly normal two year old who throws mega tantrums (the worst of course being in public places), refuses to sleep without a paci (a battle I’m too scared to fight right now- sleep is just too precious), and is constantly testing her limits. But I got a huge wake-up call when I started this journey called motherhood.
Parenting isn’t easy. It’s messy, it’s selfless, it’s exhausting, and on those days that you can have a sense of humor, it’s hilarious. It’s not the always smiling faces, stain-free and matched clothes, beautifully put-together households and imperfect kids we see on Facebook and Instagram. Real parenting is dealing with mega tantrums, poop (so so much poop), living off of 5 hours of sleep, making compromises, lots of boo boo’s, bribery, huge messes, and the acceptance of chaos. Even though nothing about parenting is perfect, it comes attached with the greatest love imaginable. I love my daughter and everything about being her mom. The learning curve has definitely been tough, but full of so much adventure.
Over these past 2 (almost 3) years, I’ve accepted the need to give up those expectations I clung so dearly to, and just go along with reality. My expectations were SO stereotypical for a first time mom. And now I find most of them to be pretty humorous.
My baby will stick to a perfect sleep schedule- she will be a Baby Wise poster child.
No child of mine will EVER act out in public.
No screen time until she’s three years old. Then strict monitoring of no more than 30 minutes per day.
I will NEVER bribe with food-especially not with sweets.
Potty training will be easy. I’ll just do that 3 day boot camp method.
I will never rely on a pacifier to soothe my toddler- it will be gone once she’s a year old.
Of course I will do all of the those Pinterest activities I pinned over the nine months I was pregnant. From DIY projects with toddlers to science experiments- no pin will go unused!
My child will always listen to me, because I’ve read all the books on how to talk and listen to children effectively. I’ll talk to her using toddler-ese when she’s upset (because that’s the best method for talking to toddlers- just read The Happiest Toddler on the Block) and it will work like a charm.
She will always think I’m the greatest mommy ever…no matter what.
Sleep schedules are great, but we had to go along with what worked for us. From BabyWise to Moms on Call, Carli refused them all. I think she was almost 2 1/2 before she was consistently sleeping through the night. I was too tired to listen to her cry it out for an hour (because that’s what she would do) and I really just couldn’t even stand the sound of it. So I let her snuggle in bed with me in the middle of the night and that was the only way any of us would get any sleep. It’s all about survival!
I would love to meet a toddler who has never thrown a tantrum in public. The best tantrums involve throwing and breaking things that I have to end up paying for- there’s a toy store in Peachtree City that I’m sure would love to never see me or my daughter again. The lesson? Never take an overly-tired or overly-hungry two year old to a store and expect them to behave.
I’m not even going to shame myself anymore for allowing screen time. It helps us survive long car rides and grocery shopping trips I can’t avoid taking her on. It allows me to have an uninterrupted run with her in the jogging stroller. It gives me 30 minutes to cook dinner. It allows me to finish a cup of coffee in the morning. Most importantly, it is my golden ticket for preventing the dreaded car nap.
I know better, especially being a dietitian. I bribe with food often. I know, it’s terrible. But- it WORKS. It’s amazing how easy it is to get a toddler out the door when they know a gummy bear is waiting for them as soon as they get buckled into the car seat. Before you start judging- it’s an omega-3 filled gummy, thank you! Just to lessen my own guilt.
Potty training was the most frustrating experience of my life. That 3 day method? It’s not a one size fits all. My kid wanted nothing to do with it. All that came out of that was the most severe UTI our pediatrician has ever seen. My method? I sat her on the toilet and ate a popsicle in front of her. I said she could have one too if she went. It worked, and after that there was no turning back.
At almost 3 years old, my kid is addicted to her paci. Even though she only has it at nap and bedtime (for the most part….sometimes I whip it out in desperation), I’m about as unwilling for her to part with it as she is. I’ve heard too many stories of kids giving up nap once that paci is gone. No way can either of us survive without nap. And it’s such magic! It transforms a cranky, fussy toddler into a sweet sleepy baby in a nanosecond.
I’ve done maybe two Pinterest activities with her. They always fail miserably. I’m not a crafty DIY type mom- and I’ve stopped pretending to be.
Hahahahaha that toddler-ese talk? I’ve tried it, and Carli just looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. Raising her has completely humbled me after reading all those books. She is no textbook child (thank goodness!) and has a mind of her own. I’ve had to get creative with my parenting techniques and usually I just go with my own motherly instincts. The advice I’ve received provides a good foundation, but I’ve had to figure things out on my own throughout the past couple of years.
I know my kid loves me. But she doesn’t always think I’m so great. She’s given me the stink eye on plenty occasions- it’s a look straight out of mean girls and she has perfected it.
How I balance the expectations with reality
I stopped reading and I take well-meaning advice with a grain of salt. I avoid judgmental people and focus on what works best for us. I scroll through my newsfeed knowing that real life isn’t so well put together. I give myself grace, and my daughter even more. I laugh at the chaos when it used to make me cry.
It can be so easy to fall into the infamous “mommy wars.” It’s hard to not aim for perfection and let everyone think that I don’t have any flaws as a mother. Shame is very real, and if I focus on what everyone else thinks I’m doing wrong, I’m doing harm to both me and my kid. My closest friendships with other moms involve the ones who can be just as transparent around me- there is something so liberating about wearing your imperfections with no shame or judgement. We are all doing the best we can to survive some of the toughest, yet most incredibly rewarding years of our lives. Why hold back? Authenticity is so much better than trying to be perfect.
The best part about motherhood? It’s an adventure, never boring and full of learning curves. Even with all those messy, chaotic, and exhausting days- the snuggles, hearing the words “I love you mommy” for the first time, the sweet little giggles, the big grins on their faces when you see them after being gone for awhile, and the big bear hugs make it all so incredibly worth it.