I recently had a talk with my husband about what he expects of me as mother and a partner. We’ve been married for almost 20 years and have three children together, but of course our needs can change and evolve just as we do. Shortly after this, I spoke with a friend about expectations of parenthood – those that we put on ourselves as well as those that are placed upon us. It was an interesting conversation that led to more questions and introspection and ultimately back to how taking time to think about this would benefit my clients.
Some folks get pregnant, and it just seems to suit them - as if their whole life was leading up to this time and they just blossom. Meanwhile, other people are stuck in their own heads of what they think pregnancy should be. Some folks seem to adjust to parenthood with ease as if their new addition is an extension of what’s always been, while others feel like they’ve fallen down a well that they’re struggling to climb out of. The truth is, our experiences are as different as we are, so why are we following an idea that things are supposed to be one way?
Thanks to popular culture, we have a set of expectations regarding pregnancy, labor, postpartum, parenthood, and well, adulthood as a whole. These are ingrained in us from an early age. We watched and listened to our caretakers as they (sometimes unknowingly) taught us about love and relationships and raising children. We’ve decided we want to be just like them or the exact opposite, but really we just want to do things our own way.
It's easy to say “I just want to be a good parent, a good partner, and a good friend.” That sounds lovely. It’s a wonderful goal. Really though, you have to break that down, because those are very broad terms! These vary by individual and the ideas you may have might be different than the ideas your partner, your parents, or your friends have. This means that you have got to dig deep, and whoever is in your life needs to do the same. The sooner you are on the same page, the better.
I’m going to say something possibly controversial: Put your needs first. You are not going to ignore the needs of others, but you damn sure can’t drink from an empty cup, so first and foremost you have got to decide what you need to feel whole. For me it’s sunshine, laughter, and digging in the dirt. Notice that those things don’t necessarily include others. They also don’t exclude them. It’s about finding balance.
Let’s take some time and unpack this. I want you to jot down some thoughts. The goal of this exercise is to create a dialogue and establish healthy expectations that you can feel good about. I find this especially helpful for folks in a transitional point in their lives (pregnant folks I’m looking at you!). Answers are going to vary depending on what area of your life you’re examining. On one side I want you to write down what you expect and on the other what you think others expect of you during this time. Don’t ask anyone for their input. This is all you right now.
How long is your list? Did it take longer than you expected it to? Before talking to anyone else about what you come up with, sit with it for a bit. How does it make you feel to look at what you’ve written? Mine was long, kind of unrealistic, and to be honest, a little overwhelming.
If you find yourself feeling similarly, turn your list into something you can feel good about. This is the time to tune into your intuitive self. What do you need to hold on to? What can you let go of? Once you’ve come up with a list you can feel good about, talk to your partner, your parents, and/or your friends. Does the list you made of what you think others expect of you match up with what they really think? Are you on the same page? If not, that’s okay! You are different people with different needs. Again it’s about finding balance and compromise. Talk through your differences.
I hope that you’ll find that some of the things you thought were expected of you by others, are not as important as you originally thought and that you can let them go. Instead of being exhausted and overwhelmed by all that you lay out for yourself on the daily basis, ask yourself what’s truly important. Maybe this means choosing to hold your baby while they sleep instead of washing the dishes. Maybe this looks like choosing to get down on the floor with your kids instead of worrying about the mess they’re making. Perhaps it means limiting visitors so you can get some rest. You could consider taking your friend up on that offer to pick up your groceries so you don’t have to do all of your errands yourself. Again, this is different for everyone. I wish you luck and hope that this exercise offers some clarity and peace of mind.
I’d love to hear feedback if you try it or if you’ve done something like this in the past, so please feel free to leave a comment. If you’d like to discuss how putting a plan into place for your fourth trimester can help, please get in touch.