The Secret to Low-Stress Parenting: Lowering Your Expectations

How many times as a parent have you written a to-do list that seemed totally reasonable, only to be crushed at the end of the day when only one single item got crossed off?

How many times have you beaten yourself up for not being able to return a phone call or text, let alone get dressed and prep dinner?

How many times have you had to choose between pumping milk at work and eating lunch without flanges attached to your boobs?

I’ve lost count on any sort of running total on this Mama Math, and I can no longer consider myself a “new mom,” as my kids are 5 and 7. But I still fall into the trap of adding too many things to my To-Do lists, whether work-, home-, or kid-related, and when I do, I become disappointed in myself.

As a Licensed Acupuncturist who specializes in the childbearing cycle, I work with parents every day, and I have come to realize that most of us have expectations of ourselves that are higher than anything we would expect of a friend or family member.

Before becoming parents, we were accustomed to putting our minds to something and making it happen.

We’d not only be able to wake up at 6am, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack a lunch, work a full day, run errands, come home and make dinner, but also respond to emails, do a load of laundry and have a meaningful conversation (maybe even meaningful sex) with our partner before going to bed and sleeping for 8 hours.

Ha! After becoming a parent, we expect to be able to do all of the above (well, maybe not the sleeping part) and also meet the survival needs of small children. Our culture expects us to bounce right back after having a child, return to our pre-baby weight, get back to work, to entertaining, to being a loving spouse or partner…in 6 weeks or less!

Who are we kidding?

The expectations we put on ourselves, and that our culture puts on us, are not only unrealistic, they’re downright ridiculous.

The transition from being childless to being a parent (or from having one child to 2 or more) is the biggest transition we will undergo since being born ourselves. It takes adjustment. It takes practice. It takes self-compassion.

When we expect too much of ourselves, we are destined to be disappointed. Chronic disappointment can make us irritable, short-tempered, anxious or depressed. And that’s just no fun.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my short 7.5 years as a parent is to lower my expectations of myself.

Here’s how.

Be Willing To Compromise

Often women who have been the most successful before having a child have the hardest time adjusting to the slower pace of parenting. Find acceptance with the need to slow down, and compromise on what needs to get done. Practice saying “No.”

Make Shorter Lists

The longer your list, the more likely you are to be disappointed. I have found that when I shorten my to-do list, I feel more happy and sane.

Add Self-Care to Your List

Meditate, do Tai-Qi or yoga, go for a walk with a friend.

Better yet, take a 15-minute break to do nothing while your child is napping or occupied with blocks.

Resist the urge to fill the in-between moments with multi-tasking. If you’re back at work, don’t sit at the computer and/or pump through every break; try taking a walk around the block and then eat your lunch without doing anything else.

Let your mind wander. Come back to your breath.

Lowering your expectations does not make you a crappy parent. It allows you to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.

Go Back in Time

My favorite tip: add a few things you’ve already done today to your list!

It will give you perspective and allow you to pat yourself on the back for accomplishing simple tasks that have become so much harder since having children. Did you take a shower? Add it to the list and check it off! Did you nurse your baby? Check! Make a cup of tea? Check! You get the idea. It’s easy to forget about how much time simple daily tasks take; give yourself some credit for the easier ones.

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Abigail Morgan

Abigail Morgan, L.Ac, is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice in the Los Angeles area, and the owner of Float Chinese Medical Arts.  She specializes in Women’s and Men’s Health and the Childbearing Cycle, and is passionate about helping parents achieve balance during the process of getting pregnant, the childbearing year, and the postpartum period.  She blogs about acupuncture, holistic health, fertility and pregnancy and mothering at Mama Float. Abigail lives in Northeast LA with her husband and their two children, who were born at home. 

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February 18, 2016
March 1, 2016