Whatever your journey to becoming a parent, we all have different experiences and preconceived notions of how things will be. It can trigger a huge mix of emotions, from excitement to happiness, anxiety and even fear. And whether you’re a new parent, step parent, adoptive parent, or foster parent, the truth is that sometimes it’s not an easy ride.

The goal of this article is to explore some of the expectations that we (and others) might put on ourselves versus the reality of being a parent and the feelings it can evoke as a result.

We wanted to do this to help parents feel heard, validated and not alone. And because we know how useful you find hearing personal stories, we spoke to a range of different parents who shared parts of their own personal journeys.

This is what they said:

Expectation 1: I will be ‘this type’ of parent
“Before I became a mother, I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d be a very good one. My own childhood had been complicated and I just didn’t think I would have the skills or the knowledge to be a ‘good enough’ mother. Don’t get me wrong, my pregnancy was planned as I really did long to be a mum but I had so much self doubt, I was afraid that I would get it all wrong and leave my child with so many issues because of my own. The reality is, that actually, I’m a pretty good mum. I’m not perfect (who is?) and I don’t always get it right. But I’d say if you do things with the best intentions, that’s a good place to start.” ~ G

Expectation 2: I will make all meals from scratch
“When I became a parent for the first time, preparing healthy, nutritious food was a priority. I got well acquainted with all the usual baby recipe books and spent hours batch cooking food for my baby. And although he mainly threw it on the floor or spat it out, I pureed, mashed, chopped for a good length of time before I realised that actually I didn’t need or want to make ALL of it. Making meals from scratch is lovely. But having a balance is also okay too, if it means your life is easier sometimes. I also realised that by the time my second child came along, I’d binned the baby recipe books and was absolutely fine with the odd fish finger!” ~ H

Expectation 3: Breastfeeding will come naturally
“Breastfeeding was so important to me. Posters everywhere told me ‘breast is best’ and I believed them wholeheartedly. I imagined effortlessly feeding my baby whenever and wherever. But after a traumatic emergency caesarean section, I found it so difficult as my milk didn’t come in for what felt like ages. My baby was underweight, I couldn’t seem to produce enough milk, my nipples were cracked and sore and I felt hopeless and upset. It was a health visitor, actually, who helped me to stop putting so much pressure on myself. Despite help from a breastfeeding nurse, breastfeeding didn’t work out for me, and at first I was gutted and in all honesty felt guilty and a bit ashamed that I ‘couldn’t do it properly’. However, because of my breastfeeding issues, I realised that sharing feeding duties (especially at night!) could have it’s benefits and me and my partner became a proper little team as a result.” ~ B

Expectation 4: I don’t agree with screen time

“I was adamant my child would not be one of those children glued to a screen. And I still sort of believe that but with much less judgement and more balanced thinking. Sometimes you need five minutes to have a cup of tea or to catch your breath or just to have some time out if you feel a bit ‘touched out’ by your baby who you adore but wants to be with you and on you the whole time! So while screen time is not relied upon or used excessively in my house, we all need a breather now and then. Plus while daddy pig annoys me on many levels and I don’t understand why postman pat still has a job, if it means my child is smiling and I can drink a hot cup of tea every once in a while, it works for me.” ~ K

Expectation 5: I will never shout
“Some people have preconceived ideas of how they will respond to their children. I know I did. I would look at other parents who raised their voices and judge them. I would think how awful it would be to be like that. And then I had my own, and realised that juggling a full time job, children with different needs on top of running a household by myself was pretty intense. And while I don’t shout often, on occasion I have and have felt so unbelievably guilty. I like to remind myself that my kids don’t have a shouty mum, they have one who has raised their voice on rare occasions because I am human. And when I don’t get things right, I own it and more importantly, I can say sorry.” ~ R

Expectation 6: I won’t care what people think of me
“I was more conscious after my baby arrived of what the health visitors thought of me. I remember being apologetic if my daughter had sick or food on her clothes. There were also a lot of expectations from other new mums who were also finding their feet. Some would want to meet up a lot, which I wasn’t always comfortable with, but I think it helped them to have company and to have something in the diary. I found myself people pleasing quite a lot, which was exhausting. I also found the lack of outward approval tough sometimes. I would think: Am I doing okay? Is this enough?” ~ J

Expectation 7: It won’t change the relationship I have with my partner
“I had seen my friend’s relationships change post baby and was adamant mine wouldn’t. I imagined we’d have to work a bit harder, have a planned date, marvel at the baby we’d created together in our big love bubble. The reality was that I didn’t like him very much to begin with and it took me by surprise. I think unconsciously I felt irritated that his life hadn’t changed as much as mine and I was annoyed when he came home from a ‘hard day’ at work to relax, yet I couldn’t do that because I had so much to do and I was exhausted. It was definitely a time of adapting and finding our groove. Communication was key for us. I kept a lot to myself which in hindsight wasn’t that helpful so I’d feel resentful and he didn’t really understand why. Luckily I like him again now and we communicate better than ever! Which is good news as we’ve had more babies since which definitely felt easier once we’d worked out the niggles.” ~ L

We all struggle from time to time. This is completely normal. If you feel that you need help and are in crisis, head here to see a list of organisations that can help. Alternatively, if you feel able to, share your worries and questions with trusted friends or family. Your GP is also available, so if you are feeling in need of more support, do consider making an appointment with your local doctor. Remember, you are not alone.

There are lots of parenting support communities online filled with help advice from professionals and parents too. Here are just a few you might find useful:

General parenting communities

  • Mumsnet – The UK’s best-know parenting website
  • Bounty – If you have young children, you might remember your free bounty pack when you became pregnant. This parenting network offers specialist information from midwives, doctors, and parenting experts too
  • Babycentre – An online community to help you from pregnancy and into parenthood.

For families who have children with additional needs

  • Contact – A charity that helps families with disabled children
  • The Autistic Society – An organisation offering information for families with autistic children

Baby loss support organisations

  • Sands – A stillbirth and neonatal death charity
  • Bliss – Support for families with babies born premature or sick
  • The Miscarriage Association  – Support for those affected by miscarriage

 

By Gemma Campbell