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When Being a Mom Isn’t What You Thought It Would Be

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Unmet expectations—they affect every mother. The first-time mom with idyllic dreams who finds herself with a fussy newborn who can’t be soothed. The mom of two who never thought she would be potty training her oldest and her youngest at the same time. The adoptive mom whose perfect baby suffers from a history of trauma and loss. We don’t always end up with what we expected.

I remember finding out I was going to have triplets. I had already been told I was having twins, but at my second ultrasound the doctor found another baby: “Oops, looks like there’s another one in there!” I didn’t expect a high-risk pregnancy or preemies. I didn’t expect to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom because my income couldn’t cover childcare for three infants. Sometimes we don’t even realize we go into parenting with certain expectations until they go unmet and we end up more tired, frustrated, or disappointed than we ever anticipated. So what do we do when our plans go awry? Here are 6 ways to deal with unmet expectations.

1. Acknowledge what you wanted.

It doesn’t do us any good to insist we have what we wanted all along if what we wanted was really something else. If you dreamed of getting your baby on a routine but what you have is a colicky infant who cries for eight-hour stretches, acknowledge the disconnect. Trying to convince ourselves we should be grateful for what we have without acknowledging the loss of what we hoped for stifles our ability to move forward.

2. Acknowledge what’s real.

So you didn’t get what you wanted. What did you get instead? Maybe you have a toddler with an incredibly strong will. Maybe you bonded with your first child instantly, but the second time around, it’s taking some time. Maybe you struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety. Your reality may be hard, but denying it or wishing it away only prolongs the struggle. Face your situation head-on, eyes wide open.

3. Allow yourself to mourn.

Grief isn’t only for those who have lost loved ones. It’s also for those who have lost dreams, lost opportunities, or lost hope for certain outcomes. Take the time to address your sadness or disappointment. Talk with someone you trust, write your pain in a journal, pray. Accepting the pain of unmet expectations gives you the best chance of being able to set it aside and move on.

4. Find the good.

Now it’s time to count your blessings. Things didn’t turn out like you thought they would, but what hidden gems showed up? I had to stop working to care for our three babies, but becoming a stay-at-home mom turned out to be the best possible arrangement for our family. Has your struggle helped you gain a new appreciation for something you once took for granted? Have you gained strength, wisdom, or patience? Sometimes our most profound growth takes place after an unexpected turn of events. Embrace it.

5. Apologize if you have to.

Sometimes our initial response to unmet expectations is to blame those around us. We blame our kids for being too challenging, our spouses for not knowing our needs better than we do, and our friends for pulling off Pinterest-worthy birthday parties for their preschoolers while we forgot to order the cake. But blaming others never gets us closer to contentment; it just magnifies our misery. If you’ve played the blame game, set those relationships right.

6. Assess what happened.

Think about what happened to lead you down this road to disappointment. Were the expectations you set realistic? Were they fair? Did you assign someone a task in your head that he or she had no business fulfilling in real life? Are you expecting your children to act more mature than they are? Are you insisting on doing all the work yourself while turning away the helping hands of others? Knowing where you got off track can give you valuable input to help you establish more reasonable expectations for the future.

The good news is you’ve got this. That baby will eventually stop crying. That five-year-old will eventually use the potty. Keep your head up.

When have you been disappointed by unmet expectations and how did you deal with it?


What helps you feel better when things don’t go as you hoped or planned?

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