What happens when we don’t get the parenthood we expected?
Before we have children, we have very clear expectations about what it will be like to be a parent. What we will be like as parents, and what our children will be like. We look at other parents and know what we will do differently, and we know how it will work, and we know what we will love about it.
Before I had children, I was very clear that we would throw our kids in backpacks and travel around South America in the style I was accustomed to. Our kids would be flexible, would be able to eat in restaurants, would be able to sleep on busses. Our kids wouldn’t need rigid schedules because our parenting would support their ability to “go with the flow.”
Before I had children I knew I would love to snuggle up on rainy days and read chapter after chapter of Little House on the Prairie with my pre-teen. I knew I would love co-sleeping. I knew that part of the joy of parenting would be to throw birthday parties where my children would frolic, laughing and joyfully chasing balloons with all their close close childhood friends. Before I had children, I knew that I would never be the kind of parent that yelled in the grocery store, mostly because my children would of course know how to act in a grocery store. I knew that I would be patient and kind and set loving and solid boundaries. I knew that my favorite parenting moments would be breast-feeding and sitting around with other moms while we leisurely sipped our coffee while our dear little ones played nicely together. I knew that we would have lovely family photos that captured the sunlight dappling on our faces while we ran through fields of daisies.
I just knew it.
And then I had kids. And they taught me how little I knew about being a mom.
We have gone backpacking across South America exactly zero times. Co-sleeping worked for our family about as well as trying to sleep in a blender. I have lost my shit in the grocery store. My kids have never wanted a birthday party with friends and we almost had to leave one the other day because the balloons getting popped were sending my son over his limits. And sitting around sipping coffee with other moms? Well, we all know how that really goes.
The truth is that our kids are born with a path, a life, of their own to live. They come from us, they depend on us, they our legally bound to us, but their life…their LIFE is their own. And our job is to embrace, support, guide and nurture that path. Their path.
Sometimes their path is so far from what we expected that we get the wind knocked out of us. Sometimes their path, and being their parent, changes our path so drastically that life becomes almost unrecognizable. It is easy, in these times, to become disappointed, resentful, angry. We can hear ourselves wondering why this is happening to us. Why can’t we have the happy kids, the happy family, the easy-lovely-normal kid? Why can’t parenting look like what we expected? Why? Why?
We can get stuck in the fantasy and what we are missing. We can mistakenly start to believe that joy in parenting can only occur when our kids become the kids that we had thought we were going to have.
But the truth is, joy is not dependent on the path looking a certain way. Joy is not saved for the healthy, the capable, the kids who love balloons and birthday parties and peacefully co-sleeping and snuggling on the couch. Joy is not reserved for times when the path is paved with flowers and dappled sunlight.
Joy in parenting can be there when the path is muddy and hard and even painful. Joy is possible when we embrace our children’s path. Their struggles, their light, their process. Joy happens when we realize that parenting this child, in this moment, is the task I signed up for. Joy is taking a hand or standing close by or supporting from afar. It means holding them tightly or watching them as they run off in the distance. Joy is the privilege of walking alongside our children’s path. As rocky and muddy and tricky as it might be.
No one gets the parenthood they expect. No one. Joy is loving, cherishing, embracing the parenthood we have.