Letting go of high expectations helped me become a happier mama

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A few month ago I wrote a personal essay reflecting on my first year of motherhood. You can read it below or you can access my essay here, which was published in mother.ly. Mother.ly is a wonderful online community filled with resources written mother-to-mother designed to connect and support us throughout the journey of motherhood. Regardless if you are a parent or not, I believe you will still connect with my words and hopefully join me in letting go of what is holding you back. 

My son recently turned one, and many people asked me what I learned in my first year of motherhood. What a big question!

As I reflected, I realized how much hands-on experience I gained in caring for a child. I'm no longer squeamish at changing a blowout diaper or intimidated by feeding solids for the first time and, to my surprise, my heart has expanded more than I could have ever imagined.

Despite what I have gained as a mother in this first year, I believe what I let go of in my journey into motherhood is what’s most important. It’s what has truly made me become a better mother to my son.

I’ve let go of expectations.

As a coach working with women struggling with perfectionism, a great deal of my work with clients is adjusting the expectations they have for themselves and others.

A large part of my work revolves around expectations because I know both personally and professionally, when we attach to certain expectations, well...we expect them to happen. And if our expectations are not met, we typically feel disappointed, angry or sad. We feel like failures.

It's natural to want things to work out according to plan, but when they don't, it can cause a great deal of distress.

And what is often wrapped in our expectations, is what we think that expectation means or says about us.

Before my son was born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Unfortunately, breastfeeding came with struggles and challenges throughout the entire process. Early on in my journey as a mother, I created an expectation that I would be able to exclusively breastfeed. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was very much attached to that expectation. I expected it to happen.

When I needed to supplement and then when my son self-weaned at 6 months, I was heartbroken. I tried all the supplements, met with lactation experts, and tried to convince my son to keep latching on, but nothing worked.

Since I did not meet my own breastfeeding expectations, I felt like a failure. I felt like I wasn't meeting his needs. I was stressed and sad. The more research I did on breastfeeding, the more discouraged I became. So one day, I just stopped. Stopped researching, stopped trying to convince my son to continue, stopped taking all the supplements. Just stopped.

Instead, I brought in Byron Katie's famous question, "Is this true?" And I asked myself:

“Is this true—I'm a failure as a mother?” Answer: Absolutely not!

“Is this true—I'm not meeting my son's needs?” Answer: No, in fact, he's meeting all his developmental milestones and is growing just fine.

This question stopped me dead in my tracks and helped me get out of my head. It stopped the negative feedback loop that was playing through my mind. I was meeting all of my son's needs, and he was thriving!

I was doing a great job.

The attachment I had to my expectations was not only causing me stress, but it also put a strain on my relationship with my son. When I let go of my expectations, it freed up mental and emotional space and allowed me to focus on what was truly important—the bond I have with my son.

So now, instead of creating expectations, I create plans/goals/intentions and allow for quite a bit of flexibility. This mindset reduces my stress so I can connect more with my son and it provides the stamina I need to handle meltdowns, messes, and lack of sleep in a more productive way.

I let go of perfectionism.

Before having children, I observed many of my friends who had kids, and I was constantly amazed how they seemed to have it all under control. These women have multiple children, hold full-time jobs, and some have side projects going on as well.

I used to look at them in awe and think, Seriously, how do they do it? On social media their kids seem well-behaved, my friends are well-groomed, and they look like they have it all together.

Then, when I had my son, my life with one child did not look as picturesque as my friend's lives.

My life looked like this:

  • Scattered toys were my new trending home decor look.
  • Burned meals were a staple Pinterest recipe at our dinner table.
  • Tackling landmines of endless laundry was my new go-to “me time” activity.
  • Showering? What's that?

Then one day, I had a heart to heart with one of my picture-perfect friends. I quickly learned her life was not as sterile as I once thought. At the time she was dealing with postpartum depression, drowning in endless chores, and had little motivation to socialize or be active. In this moment I was reminded of what perfectionism keeps us from...connection.

When my friend opened up about her struggles, I was able to see her humanity. I connected with her feelings, and together, we were able to offer each other support. This moment of connection allowed us to be real about how we were coping with this reality of motherhood.

I’ve learned that expectations and perfectionism prevent connection with others and disable us from allowing our authentic selves to shine through. They take us out of the present moment and away from valuable time with our loved ones. And where motherhood can be stressful enough on its own, they create additional (and unnecessary!) distress.

Instead of focusing on all the household chores not done, I prioritize my time with my son. Playtime, endless hugs and kisses, curiosity, and laughter is our top priority.

What I have learned the most is, my son doesn't see my flaws. He doesn't care if I've washed my hair that day or that he sometimes wears clothes too small for him. He wants to share his toys with me and loves to listen to me read his favorite book. He wants hugs to feel me close. He wants help when he is stuck. He wants to share laughs with me.

What he cares most about is my presence and letting go of high expectations and perfectionism allows me to be more present with my son.