Before having kids of my own, I had a lot of opinions about parenting. Looking back, I’ll admit that I was naive.
During my first pregnancy, I read baby books and took parenting classes, which covered everything from basic childcare, sleep, and nutrition to discipline and family life. I felt prepared to take on anything that motherhood could throw at me.
But as I soon found out, real life isn’t always that simple. I quickly learned to let go of some of my expectations and high standards for myself as a parent. If you’re a parent already, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
Expectation: You’ve pulled a few all-nighters before—having a newborn waking you up at night will be a breeze.
Before having a baby, you may have wondered why everyone tells you, “You’ll never sleep again.” Don’t babies spend half the day napping anyway? If they wake you up a few times at night, you can just take a nap. Plus, the night wakings only last for a few months. After that, you can just put them in their crib and have the rest of the evening to yourself.
Reality: Nothing can prepare you for the exhaustion you feel as a new parent.
As soon as you bring your first child home from the hospital, you realize just how wrong you were. Your baby most likely wakes you up every 2-3 hours, so let’s hope you do get a nap (or three) the next day. And it’s not like you just sleep bad for a few nights. Nope, it’s every night. Day after day, you will just be more tired and cranky than the last. Just remember that it does get easier—eventually. (That is, as long as the endless worrying doesn’t keep you up.)
Expectation: You’ll only feed your child the freshest and most nutritious foods, prepared with love by you (and maybe even cut into adorable animal shapes).
Maybe your friend’s kids only eat fresh fruits and vegetables and were given a special, healthy “cake” on their first birthday. So, you bought a new blender to make your own baby food and have researched the benefits of baby-led weaning. Good for you! Processed foods are just so bad, and besides, it’s just a myth that kids don’t like vegetables.
Reality: As long as they eat something, you’ll be happy.
Okay, so you’ve done everything right and your child doesn’t even know what Goldfish crackers are or that chocolate milk is a thing. The problem is, they still refuse to eat the healthy food you put so much effort into preparing for them. Before you know it, you’re a short-order cook and all of those packaged snacks seem like great additions to your child’s meals.
Expectation: With your unlimited patience and positive reinforcement, you’ll have the most well-behaved kid in the neighborhood.
Terrible twos, troublesome threes, and ferocious fours—you’ve heard what the other parents are saying. But you’ve read all the parenting books, so you’re prepared. When your child acts up, you know to remain calm and help them to understand their feelings. And you’ll always remember to praise your child for good behavior, which means eventually you won’t even have to ask them to put their toys away or share with their siblings.
Reality: You lose your patience more than you’d like to admit.
Maybe on more than one occasion you’ve heard yourself say, “Because I said so.” And sometimes you need to give yourself a time out so you can take a few deep breaths and remember that they’re just kids. They need you to teach them right from wrong, even if it isn’t always easy.
Expectation: Your child won’t get any screen time until age 2 and will spend their days quietly playing and reading books.
Since pediatricians recommend little or no screen time for young children, of course yours won’t watch any TV. Instead, they will quietly play with blocks and other wooden toys, work on puzzles, and read when you’re busy with housework. They will understand that you have to wash the dishes and make dinner, so they’ll entertain themselves.
Reality: Disney+ is the only reason you can get a single thing done during the day.
While you want to enjoy these years the best you can and spend as much time as you can with your little one, eventually the dishes pile up, the laundry needs folded, and you’re still in your pajamas after lunchtime wondering when you will ever get a moment to yourself. So, you decide, a little TV wouldn’t hurt. And guess what? If it means getting even twenty minutes to yourself so you can keep your sanity—it’s probably fine.
Expectation: Having a little brother or sister will give your first-born a friend to play with!
Once your first baby is, well, no longer a baby, you start to wonder if you could do it all over again. After all, a sibling is a friend for life, and your toddler loves to play with other kids. And won’t they be lonely without a sibling? If you have a second child, it’ll be nothing but fun all the time.
Reality: Your kids can play together for about five minutes before they are fighting over whose turn it is.
When your second baby is born, your first child doesn’t really know what to do with them. They mostly sleep and cry and make it harder for you to pay attention to them. But, as their little brother or sister grows, they begin playing together a little bit and making each other laugh. And it’s the sweetest thing. Enjoy it while it lasts—because pretty soon they will be fighting over every little thing.
Do any of these unrealistic parenting expectations sound familiar to you? If so, know that you aren’t alone. Relax and just remember that you’re doing your best—and that’s what really matters.
“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”