When Expectations about Being a Parent Lead to Unhappiness


I want to tread (write) gently in today’s post about parenting expectations and happiness because I’m not a parent.  But my fiancé and I have been talking about having children lately.  A few friends have told me to “just worry about the wedding first” but I humbly disagree that talking about children is premature.

Not to trivialize the wedding, but it is just one day.  Our marriage and parenthood are permanent commitments and I want to be on the same page with my soon-to-be-husband about how we will function as a family and agree that our partnership is suited for children.

I tend to be a worst-case scenario type person due to my less than fairy-tale like upbringing, so I’m incredibly sensitive to what challenges couples today.

Along with money, children are right up there and naturally, I want to talk about it before we make that irreversible decision to have kids.

So far we’ve talked about our views on spanking, private versus public schools, financial burden, discipline techniques, sleepless nights, level of commitment to maintain a sexual and social life, and sharing parenting responsibilities.

We’re not trying to take the romance or experience out of parenthood, we just know that if we can’t work together on common challenges, there will be a lot of disappointment in our future.

So it’s no surprise that we gravitated towards the segment above, about parents loving their kids but being unhappy, that aired on the Today Show this morning.  What resonated was the kind of expectations couples place on parenthood to automatically bring happiness.

Watching this segment reminded me of weddings and young marriages.  So much of the focus and expectation is on love and romance.  Well there’s nothing romantic about fighting over dishes, arguing about changing the kitty litter, or stressing over balancing work, marriage, and a social life.  But these are the things couples negotiate throughout a partnership and romance doesn’t make it better.  It just confuses you into thinking there might be something wrong.

This parenting segment reminded me of a similar trend in our society to over-romanticize the awesomeness of marriage and now parenting.  It makes people feel guilty for saying less than amazing things about their experiences as husband/wife/dad/mom.  Just look at Charlotte from the Sex and the City movie.  She had to be drunk to admit her kids were driving her insane and that she cries alone in a closet.  I just made a SATC reference, which I know may reduce my credibility but there was an honest moment in that scene.

I don’t want to sound like an anti-romantic.  There’s so much value in the overwhelming love we have for our partners and children (for those who have kids.)  It supports us through those difficult moments.  It just shouldn’t be expected to do all the work and we should be careful about expecting it to make us happy.