Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.
Becoming a mother, for me, was not a simple transition. I went from being a successful corporate professional who juggled 10-15 multi-million dollar projects at any one time to being at home with a baby who became hysterical when breastfeeding, failed to thrive and who had severe sleep regression for 16 weeks straight.
The pregnancy that produced my daughter Ava was in every way unplanned. She was very wanted and is much loved but it turned my life upside down. Suddenly nothing was really in my control anymore.
I found myself at home, one week after Ava was born, alone (for the most part) and my life from that point onwards was the exact opposite of how I had designed it to be -uncontrolled and unplanned. I read every baby sleep book under the sun convinced that there was something I was doing wrong. I drove myself crazy trying to work out what that one thing was.
When my daughter was 18 months I went to see a sleep psychologist still convinced that 'something could be done' about the fact she wouldn't self-settle, that every meal time was a battle ground and that we were up for hours with her in the middle of the night. Interestingly at my first appointment the psychologist quickly realised that in fact it was not Ava who needed help it was me, her stressed, anxious, sleep deprived mother who had lost her own identity.
Over a number of weeks I worked with this psychologist to realise that my expectations of a 'normal baby' were completely unrealistic, for example that at 12 months only 38% of babies sleep through the night and 49% of babies between 1-2 years wake at least once a night. I had similar unrealistic expectations of how well my daughter should be eating based on what I saw from a handful of friend's children.
So learning this I made some choices:
- I chose to let go of unrealistic expectations of my daughter and stop comparing her, and myself, to others;
- I chose to let her eat 6 month old puree if that is what she wanted;
- I chose to accept that she wasn't self-settling and sit with her reading a book till she fell asleep;
- I chose to be a lot calmer and let go of needing everything to be planned and organised; and
Interestingly since making these choices my relationship with my husband is the best it's ever been, my daughter is self-settling and sleeping well and eating a range of foods and I have achieved my dream and established a life and career coaching practice for working mums. I have never been happier and am no longer plagued by stress and anxiety.
So how do you let go of unhelpful expectations?
- Accept that everyone in your life has different strengths and qualities to bring to the relationship and allow them to express this in different ways. Some people may be exceptionally supportive in a crisis, others amazing fun to hang out with and others provide great advice;
- Understand that yours is only one version of reality shaped by your experiences and core values. Communicate your needs and expectations but also seek to understand theirs and find a middle ground;
- With regards to your children remind yourself that the "normal" range for developmental milestones are wide and that they are little people with little personalities. Allow them to express themselves and celebrate their uniqueness rather than comparing them to other children;
- Be kind to yourself, set goals and work towards them but equally be flexible and allow yourself to relax and have fun. The worst expectations are the ones we inflict on ourselves.
- Choose to let go of those unhelpful & unrealistic expectations. Ask yourself what if I didn't expect this of myself/my partner/my friend - how would my life be different?