Unrealistic Expectations

I have a toddler. I work–a lot. I rarely brush my hair. Sometimes I have ants on my kitchen floor.

When my daughter was two weeks old, I returned to graduate school. I learned a lot that quarter—I learned how to get through a doorway with a stroller, how to place a nipple shield during a lecture, and how many changes of clothes are required for an outing with an infant. As for learning about genetic epidemiology that quarter…that’s another story entirely.

My story is an artifact of unrealistic maternal expectations. Mom’s work hard to meet these lofty expectations. With each child, a mom’s workload increases at a rate 2-3 times greater than dad’s (Light, 1997–this is admittedly, an outdated source). Each day, a mom awakes to a (socially imposed) task list. We’re expected to carefully curate our child’s play experiences, embedding natural opportunities to learn. We’re supposed to fix nutritious meals for tiny foodies—only organic of course—no mac and cheese allowed. We’re supposed to give back to the community, through thoughtful volunteer work and skillful employment. We’re supposed to get in our daily yoga to keep that Zen state of mind. We’re expected to keep Disney out of sight and princess culture at bay. We’re supposed to shed “all that baby weight,” eat bales of kale, and take our kids to the park before snack time. But, as with many unrealistic expectations, these are difficult to meet and take their toll on maternal health (WHO, Hill & Hill, 1990).

I recognize that I am not alone in my unrealistic expectations. You are not alone. At the end of the day, when you’re hating on yourself for calling on Doc McStuffins, while ants crawl on the floor, and your belly is still squishy, know this…

These expectations may feel like reality, but they are learned behaviors. They are based in thoughts we have practiced and chanted to the point that they become woven into the fabric of our being. They are reinforced through marketing intended to make certain products and services seem like essential tools, tricks of the trade that are required to live up to these very insane expectations. Advertising feeds the voices in our head…if I had that app/recipe box/product, then I could be the perfect mom. We see well-lit photos on social media of organic bento boxes and adorable Pinterest crafts—brief windows into the lived experience of another. It’s easy to assume those images represent a whole, forgetting that she probably has ants on her floor, too. And she might even be hanging on to some extra baby weight.

How would our expectations shift if DIY-perfection was replaced with ants? If we kicked the perfectly posed photos and replaced them with a few back rolls? If we accepted imperfections and shortcomings, and acknowledge that they too serve an important function?

So I offer this window into imperfectionmy squishy, stretch-marked tummy. It may not meet expectations. But, if it’s not completely clear by the photo, this artifact of motherhood serves an important purpose—humility, grace, and most importantly, toddler snuggles.

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