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Expectation vs. reality

Blog1When I was pregnant with my (now 8-month-old) daughter Amanda, my husband and I liked to ask more experienced parents – “What is one thing you swore you would never do when you became parents that you totally ended up doing?” Answers ranged, as you might imagine, from co-sleeping, to formula feeding, to plopping a kid in front of the TV. Parental reality has a way of setting in and crushing even our loftiest of expectations, as we ourselves discovered all too quickly. Take our experience, for example:

I had been looking forward to a home birth for years before ever becoming pregnant… until complications in labour sent us rushing down to Mt. Sinai hospital.

I was determined that I would exclusively breastfeed for the first six months … until my body didn’t cooperate and my midwife told me I would need to supplement the baby with formula, at least for a little while.

I figured I would be a good crunchy mamma using environmentally friendly cloth diapers … except my kid broke out in horrible rashes no matter what we did until we switched over to disposables.

I was adamant that only the worst kind of person let a baby cry themselves to sleep … until I had a child who WOULD NOT sleep until, out of desperation, we turned to the infamous Dr. Ferber.

I was going to avoid any pre-packaged baby foods … but sometimes when you’re traveling it is just the most realistic option (and, well, we’re all about honesty here: prune-based baby food can be a lifesaver for an infant’s gastro-intestinal comfort).

As parents today, it seems that we are held (and consequently hold ourselves) to ridiculous standards of perfection. This is unhealthy in our own lives, as we judge ourselves and find our confidence to nurture our children undermined every time we fail to meet the arbitrary standards set for us. It also, however, impacts our relationships with one another. There is so much riding on every decision we make—from how we feed our children to how we discipline them—that it’s no wonder we find ourselves judging one another. If my friend put her baby on a rigid nap schedule, am I a bad mother for having a more laid back attitude? Am I going to ruin my kids because I let them eat gluten? We have become conditioned to second-guess ourselves at every turn. Is it any wonder that we hold our own parenting decisions with defensiveness, rather than confidence?

It is unfortunate enough that modern parenting across the board fosters a culture of perfectionism that leads to judgmental divisions. But it is particularly troubling in the context of the church, where we can find ourselves under even greater pressure to present the image of the smiling, happy family. This despite the fact that we know, deep down, we are accepted and loved by God even when (especially when?) we are not perfect.

My hope for this new blog will be that we can share with one another honest experiences from the trenches of parenthood. A judgment-free place for addressing the challenges and joys of raising kids in general, and more specifically within the church in the context of a society that is not always conducive to matters of faith. We are, after all, in this thing together.

Rachel Kessler

About Rachel Kessler

I am an Associate Priest at Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto. I've spent many years in higher education, none of which has prepared me at all for the joys and challenges of parenthood. I'm married to Leeman, an actor and stay-at-home Dad. When not trying to keep a small human alive, I enjoy watching way too much TV, playing obscure board games, baking, and hanging out with my border collie Bilbo.
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One Response to Expectation vs. reality

  1. I can totally relate to this article for both of my children, first and second. I did as much “natural motherhood” as I was humanly able to and adjusted my expectations as time moved on — even to this present day — and my children are now teenagers at 16 and 19. What I found most prevalent are the changes in our society that did not exist while I was growing up — but exist today for my children and yours — and have found that I need to learn as much from my children as they need to learn from me. That is a fact. For example, I didn’t even know what the “Ferber method” was and I practiced it — because it made common sense not because a male doctor specialist told me so no different than the expertise of Dr. Benjamin Spock. Children do not cry for no reason at all. As mothers, we need to find out the reasons why when our children are unable to tell us. Robert Fulghum’s poem sums it up best: “You will never really know what kind of parent you were, or if you did it right or wrong. Never. And you will worry about this and them for as long as you live. But when your children have children, and watch them what they do, then you will have part of the answer.” And this permitted me to pray for my children, even as grown ups, for protection and to make good choices everyday.

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  • I can totally relate to this article for both of my children, first and second. I did as much "natural motherhood" as I was humanly able to and adjusted my expectations as time moved on -- even to this present day -- and my children are now teenagers at 16 and 19. What I found most prevalent are the changes in our society that did not exist while I was growing up -- but exist today for my children and yours -- and have found that I need to learn as much from my children as they need to learn from me. That is a fact. For example, I didn't even know what the "Ferber method" was and I practiced it -- because it made common sense not because a male doctor specialist told me so no different than the expertise of Dr. Benjamin Spock. Children do not cry for no reason at all. As mothers, we need to find out the reasons why when our children are unable to tell us. Robert Fulghum's poem sums it up best: "You will never really know what kind of parent you were, or if you did it right or wrong. Never. And you will worry about this and them for as long as you live. But when your children have children, and watch them what they do, then you will have part of the answer." And this permitted me to pray for my children, even as grown ups, for protection and to make good choices everyday.