It’s About Expectations: Response to “Happiness in Parenting”

by - November 11, 2010

This morning, Sue Robinson over at “Motherhood & Me” posted an article in which she discusses her lack of happiness in parenting and lays out the difference between loving her children and loving the act of parenting. I’ll admit I had to look up the definition of happiness because happiness isn’t something I think about often. I’ve always placed happiness and enjoyment on the backburner to satisfaction and joy – or taking pride in hard work and results, which I believe are attainable even in difficult circumstances. It turns out that these are synonyms of happiness, so I’ve now got something to work from.

I appreciate Sue’s honesty as she writes

I love my kids, but I dread the day-to-day parenting. Does this mean I don’t love my children? It sure feels like it, when you think back to your day and you can’t think of one enjoyable thing about it. Are all my days like this? No, but to be honest, the majority are.
I resonate with her on some level. Parenting is work. It is most definitely an unpaid job, and I would guess that many if not most mothers entered parenting with visions of long peaceful snuggles on beds made of cloud-like pillows saturated in the scent of clean baby only to find themselves at 3 am rocking a crying baby and smelling crusty spit up and the diaper pail that they neglected to clean because of exhaustion. There are many days I am counting down until bedtime and just want to crawl into a closet and hide from all the whining and little fingers that pull my out hair and grab for my attention. Some days I am really tired of wiping booties and begging the toddler to eat one more bite of lunch.

However, I think Sue is spot on when she talks about faulty expectations.
I believe that I was wrong in believing that having children would somehow define me as a person. I truly believed that by having children I would be eternally happy, feel ultimately fulfilled and be the shiny goddess of motherhood.
I think these expectations really do shape our perception of happiness as we think of parenting. When we feel disappointment in our abilities, emotions or even our kids, happiness can be fleeting. When we meet or exceed our expectations, we somehow have a greater capacity to feel happiness.

Honestly, I was really nervous about having my first kid and absolutely terrified of having a second. My sister and I had a long standing agreement that she would take my kids until they were five or six and then return them to me because I don’t really like babies. Of course we were half-joking, but I was under no illusions that this time of life would be rosy. When I look at my expectations, many were met.

I expected to be overwhelmed. I expected it to take me awhile to bond with my babies, unlike some women who fall head-over-heels instantly. I expected discipline to be a chore. I expected to really miss shopping by myself. I expected I would get really annoyed with all the noise. I expected there would be days I didn’t really like my kids. So there were not a whole lot of surprises to throw me off guard and leave me hugely disappointed in myself. I realize how incredibly pessimistic this all sounds, but I wouldn’t have had children were there not also positive expectations. I expected to really enjoy the companionship. I expected to love unconditionally. I expected to find fulfillment in nurturing them. I expected to enjoy making them laugh.

Beyond those initial expectations of parenthood, problems occur on a daily basis when I expect too much of myself and my kids or just flat out want to be lazy. Sometimes this because I am looking at what other moms are able to accomplish and get overwhelmed, sometimes it is because I get fed up doing the same daggone things every day, sometimes it’s because I feel lost in this vortex of parenting in which I never ever get enough sleep, never get the house cleaned and never read enough books to my kids. I get pretty annoyed at myself and feel like a failure.

Part of enjoying parenting or finding happiness in parenting for me is seeing the results of the time and energy I put in. I think every mom needs to step back and congratulate herself for each day her child is still alive, fed, and has a clean booty. These expectations aren’t too high, right? Next, I think we can enjoy seeing our child walk himself to time-out instead of dragging him there kicking and screaming. This means a lot of conversations have taken place, a lot of patience and grace have been given, and soon we get to hear, “Sorry Mommy. Love you.” While I don’t enjoy the fight that led to time out, I enjoy the reconciliation and seeing very slowly his behavior improve and his character be shaped.

I rarely ever exercise, but I imagine that parenting is much like going to the gym. The harder you work in the gym, the stronger you become and the more pleased you are with yourself. You don’t necessarily enjoy lifting the weights as your muscles are screaming in agony, but you sure do enjoy getting that extra large plate of pasta for dinner. You go to sleep knowing you gave it your best.

Most importantly, I think the key to finding happiness in parenting is taking it day to day while keeping the long-range goals in mind. Practically, this means forgive yourself for yesterday. Be okay with the fact that sometimes playtime is incredibly boring. Move on… and as you make playdough snakes for the fifth time this week, enjoy that he’s now rolling eyeballs for the snakes by himself. Have your kids help you out as much as they are able because it's never too early to teach them responsibility and secretly they crave it. Don’t be so hard on yourself but work as hard as you can and look hard for the evidences that what you do really does matter.

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4 comments

  1. "Part of enjoying parenting or finding happiness in parenting for me is seeing the results of the time and energy I put in. I think every mom needs to step back and congratulate herself for each day her child is still alive, fed, and has a clean booty."

    Thank you for that. I don't give myself any credit and that is a whole different topic...

    It is hard. For me, harder than I ever thatought it would be and that makes me feel like a failure or somehow worse off than the "rest of the moms".

    I am glad you are happier now and thanks for having this conversation with me. We need to do this in real life over coffee one of these days.

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  2. Thanks, Sue. I think the biggest thing I failed to expect was the intense loneliness that comes from early motherhood. The first time, it blindsided me. This time, I got medicated quickly for the PPD and that loneliness is so much less. I've also got amazing people to have real conversations with, and that makes it easier to endure.

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  3. Great insight, Paige. I loved this. And as I read it, memories of those hard days flood back...and for them I am so grateful. I wanted kids, but was a bit fearful because I didn't just love all children in general. In fact, most of them irritated me. My cousin told me that it is so different when the children are yours and she was so right. Not that they never irritated me, but the LOVE was there no matter what they did. God waited 7 years to give us our first...probably because He knew I needed to really, really, really want one! :-)

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  4. What's so great about this is that you went on to do King's Kids where you were surrounded by kids all the time! Your boys (or men now) are amazing and motherhood definitely suits you. God does have his own timing. I think about that even with my two miscarriages before Matthew.

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