Parenting-When Your Dreams Don’t Match Your Reality PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bethany Kientzel   

Remember that time you were excited to spend a leisurely day at the beach with your mom-friends while watching the kids build sandcastles, but instead your child stood fully clothed on his beach towel staring at the sand and making panic sounds like he was being circled by sharks? Or how about that time you treated your son to a SF Giants baseball game on Mother’s Day, but then they lost the game and so he sat there miserable like you had ruined his life, and then you felt like a horrible mom for getting angry with him because he couldn’t put aside his feelings on Mother’s Day? Good times.


Most parents fantasize about what their parenting life will be like before they become parents. They create scenes in their minds that are happy, positive, and fun, like the carefully chosen posts of that one facebook friend whose life seems perfect. Parents-to-be imagine cozy book-reading sessions on the couch, or peaceful breaks while the children are cooperatively playing together, or their children delightfully frolicking along the seashore. Many times these imaginings become real life scenarios, but when the reality of parenting doesn’t match the fantasy a parent can feel like a failure, like something is wrong, like they’re not doing it right.


Most people approach parenting with a conscientious attitude. They read parenting books, observe other parents, collect ideas and parenting-hacks, and make mental lists of things they swear they will never do. This preparation can provide structure and guidance, but also can result in a false sense of control because when it comes down to it, there are as many different ways that kids can be as there are stars in the sky, and we never really know whom we will be parenting until we are doing it. Parenting is on-the-job-training for which there is no way one can acquire all of the skills and experience ahead of time.


When outcomes match a parent’s dreams, it reinforces the idea that their knowledge, skill, and conscientiousness made it happen. They get to take credit and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But what happens when parents’ dreams don’t match reality? Are parents doing something wrong if their child cannot tolerate sitting for a story and instead insists on grabbing and crinkling the pages. Are parents to blame when their child refuses to eat anything other than the same five things, or when the school calls because their child is struggling socially? Perhaps those parents did everything “right” too, so why aren’t their preconceived parenting scenes coming to life?


Parenting involves the practice of shedding those previous fantasies and being with what is. When we shed expectations and focus on our child’s uniqueness, we not only get to know our child more deeply, but we also can develop new skills and strategies for making things run smoother. Sometimes we also need to shed our expectations around the kind of parent we had hoped to be.


One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is when a child’s needs require that the parent respond in a way that is not comfortable or compatible with the parent’s personality or way of thinking. For instance, if the child needs more order and structure than the parent is comfortable providing, it puts the child’s needs at odds with the way the parent wants to be. That is when shedding our expectations about our parenting is needed. The fantasy might have been to provide many choices for the child, but the reality may be that too many choices causes the child stress. The struggle of becoming a parent you don’t want to be, but you may need to be is an opportunity for growth. The good news is that not only will parenting become easier, but also, the lessons learned about letting go of expectations for our children and ourselves are also transferable to other relationships in the adult’s life. In other words, this parenting struggle is a gift.


So on this Mother’s Day, if the day ends up being a struggle instead of a leisurely day of breakfast in bed, gifts, and precious homemade cards, you can always salvage the day by taking some time to gaze upon your kids and silently thank them for the gift of helping you to grow. Letting go of expectations and accepting real life is always better than dreams anyway.


Bethany Kientzel is an early childhood educator, and marriage and family therapist intern. She can be reached at 831 429-6399.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 June 2017 20:59
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