When the Reality of Parenting Doesn’t Match Your Expectations

When the Reality of Parenting Doesn't Match Your Expectations. (Photo: Upholstered chair with a quilt with jungle animals on it)

This story was supposed to have a sweet and happy ending.

At midnight a few nights ago, just as I was about to go to bed, I heard my younger son (who is almost two) wailing. I rushed from the kitchen to his room. He was standing up in his crib, nothing visibly wrong. “Up up,” he demanded, hands raised.

So I picked him up. I walked over to his rocking chair, nestling him in my lap. I cradled him like a baby, one arm under his head, the other across his chest. My arm anchored him to me. His body sunk into mine.

“This might be the last time I do this,” I thought. “Take it in.” “Enjoy the moment.” “It passes so fast, you know.”

I looked down at his tiny face, obscured in the darkness. I scanned it for every detail, running my eyes along his thin lips and button nose. Pressing my lips to the top of his head, I felt his silky hair underneath them. Breathing in, I smelled the last of the shampoo from his bath. Beyond my arm, I smiled at his little feet, crossed at the ankles. My breathing slowed, not quite matching his.

It was quiet, just us there in the dark. Like the old days of his babyhood.

Feeling him heavy against me, I shifted my arms and stood up. I shuffled over to his crib and stretched to place him down.

At the last moment, he shifted a little too much. He arched his back, rolled over, and scrambled back on his feet.

This is not how this story was supposed to go.

Looking at him, I wanted to preserve that earlier moment. Sighing, I picked him back up and sat back down in the chair.

This time, he squirmed as I cradled him, moving his head from side to side and kicking his feet. To adjust, I sat him up, resting his head on my chest. Slumping down in the chair, I made myself squishy enough for him to find comfort. My head rested on his, just barely touching. I closed my own eyes as he snuggled in.

Fluttering my eyes to fully wake up, it felt as if he was out. I arose again, handling him even more delicately than before. “If only I can place him just right…”

He arched his back, turned over, and stood up. Looking at me with the type of anger only the parent of a toddler can understand, he opened his mouth and let out an unholy wail.

This is not how this story was supposed to go.

I looked to my husband for help with a desperate half-smile. “We can bring him into bed, right?” He looked at me and shook his head. “No!” I knew he was right – no one sleeps well when the kids sleep with us, including the kids. Plus, neither of us were in bed yet. My son would be fully awake and quite peeved by the time we’d be ready to bring him in.

So I put him back in the crib. When he stood up, I gave him a couple more hugs. But I didn’t go back to the chair. As he stood up and yelled at me, I closed the door to his room.

This is not how the story was supposed to go.

But that’s how it went. That’s how so many parenting stories go – contrary to our expectations. Something was supposed to be sweet; instead it was loud and stressful. Something was supposed to be planned; instead it was chaotic. As one of my favorite bloggers, Beth Woosley, puts it “the magic and the muck.”

But the muck doesn’t cancel out the magic. The fact that I couldn’t put my son down without waking him up didn’t erase the peace of the moments before. The frown on his face and whines from his mouth didn’t invalidate his earlier sleepy smiles.

So often, we let the story we expect stand in the way of appreciating the story we have. But what we do matters more than what we hoped for.

As for me, I was wracked with guilt as I closed the door. But as he calmed a few moments later, I breathed deep.

No matter how the story is “supposed” to go, what matters is that you love your children the best you can. No other story matters.

For more on me dealing with my baby no longer being a baby, read Connecting with Who My Baby Really Is. Be sure to follow us on Facebook!

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