“Mind The Gap” This is a phrase that was introduced in 1969 as part of the London Underground to alert passengers of the space that exists between the subway platform and the train.
But what about the gap that exists between expectations and reality? I call it: “The Disappointment Gap.” The larger the space between expectation and reality, the more potential there is for disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong… Expectations are important tools that help us move through our day-to-day lives.
We need to go to bed in the evening, with the expectation that our alarm clock will go off on time the next morning and get us out of bed to start our day. It’s helpful to have the expectation that our water heater will be working so we get to have a nice, hot shower. We have a set expectation about how long it takes us to drive to work, and that allows us to know when we need to leave in the morning to make it in on time. And so on, and so on.
But have you ever had days where these very basic expectations were not met?
The alarm never went off – or if it did, you groggily hit the snooze button and slept right through it! Your teen switches things up and takes a morning shower, and your husband runs the dishwasher at the same time, and now your shower is anything but nice and hot. You hop in your car and start your morning commute, only to get caught in terrible traffic because there’s an accident miles up ahead.
If we went to bed the night before knowing our morning routine was going to be so disrupted, we probably wouldn’t sleep very well. We might even have a sense of dread about getting up the next day. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine calling in “sick” before hitting the hay, just to avoid all the unmet expectations that are sure to ruin our day.
Expectations are important, even necessary, to function daily!
But there are a few life experiences where having set expectations can cause long-term disappointment. The life experiences where the gap between expectation and reality has the most potential for causing long-term disappointment are: pregnancy, birth and parenting. Take a look at these three examples to see what I mean…
|I’ll have a tiny, cute, little baby bump.||EVERYTHING is huge – my belly, my arms, my face, my butt, my feet, etc.|
|Maybe I’ll have a little morning sickness, but not too much.||Unless I’m sleeping, I’m puking my entire insides out – All.Day.Long.|
|Exhausted? A little bit… I mean, it’s hard work making a baby!||I shouldn’t be allowed to drive or operate large machinery. I’m a danger to myself and others!|
|We’re fully prepared to welcome this little person into our lives. We’re becoming a family! (Happy sigh.)||How did this happen? I’m not ready for this – are you ready for this? We either have to remodel or move. And we’ll need a bigger car.|
|I will have an unmedicated, zero intervention birth.||I ended up with a very complicated labor and and a Cesarean Birth.|
|I will breathe my baby out – I’m going to have an orgasmic birth experience!||WTF?! This hurts! This hurts A LOT!!! Breathing? It’s not working, people!|
|I’ve had an easy pregnancy, and I’m in great shape. I’ll probably have an easy, fast labor. I’m really looking forward to it!||My labor was really, really long. I was so exhausted and had no idea it would be so hard. I pretty much hated it every minute of it.|
|I’ve done my research and written my Birth Plan, so I know how my birth will play out.||My birth looked nothing like what I’d written in my Birth Plan!|
|Our baby will sleep through the night at 8 weeks postpartum.||At 12 months, we’re still getting up at least twice a night to settle our baby down.|
|Breastfeeding will be easy – it’s the most natural thing in the world!||OMG – this is so hard! Fingertip feeding, SMS kits, nipple shields… Who knew?|
|Parenting is instinctual and I’ll know what to do… Most of the time.||How do people do this? I’m supposed to know what to do? Well, I don’t.|
|Having a baby will bring us so much closer together – becoming a family will be wonderful!||I feel like having a baby blew up our relationship! It’s driving us apart.|
These are extremes and I’m not writing this to scare anyone about pregnancy, birth or new parenting – far from it! What I’m interested in sharing is how your expectation and reality of these life-changing transitions can be two very different things.
And, more importantly, the farther apart your expectation is from your reality the more likely you are to feel disappointment, disillusionment and – maybe even a sense of betrayal.
“Why didn’t anyone ever tell me it would be like this? Why was I so unprepared?”
I think many who work with expecting families are concerned that if they speak openly and honestly of the challenges that might be a part of the pregnancy, birth and new parenting experience they will frighten families.
But my experience has been completely the opposite.
I think when families have a realistic idea about what to expect, overwhelmingly they are grateful for the information that best prepares them for what might happen.
The realities expressed above are just examples of the extreme. In real life, the gap between expectation and reality might be far less. But, the actual distance between expectation and reality is not the heart of the issue.
The real issue is whether or not you’ve allowed your brain to even consider other outcomes for any of these experiences.
Allowing your brain to consider different possible outcomes – unexpected or even undesirable – will not make them happen. But even just considering them provides a buffer if your expectations are not fully met. The gap between expectation and reality has been bridged – even slightly – and your level of disappointment will be lessened, for sure.
I’m one of the most positive and optimistic people you’ll ever meet… I believe in working toward everything you’re hoping for with your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences!
But I also strongly believe in knowing what lies ahead. Feeling prepared for the different ways your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences might play out and not feeling tied to a set of expectations can go a very long way in closing The Disappointment Gap.
And then you’re freed up to be curious, present, and in the moment as these life transitions become reality for you. When you’re able to be here – now – and not mourning the experience that should have been or worrying about the experience that is yet to come, you’re more open to the transformation that can happen as you move through these experiences.
And – BONUS! – you just might learn a thing or two about resilience.
Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
The changes that are coming your way as you embark on starting a family are monumental. These changes happen at the speed of light and all at the same time. Being a resilient parent will help with you cope with all of these changes you’ll face in your new role. It will help you adapt as an individual, as well as a couple, to the sometimes minute-by-minute, changes that occur as you’re learning how to parent your newborn, toddler, child, tween, teenager and adult.
I’ve said it before – parenting is not for the faint of heart, and it never ends! It’s hard work and oftentimes, it’s the not-knowing of what exactly lies ahead that makes it so challenging.
If you can allow yourself to loosen the reigns on this experience, and begin doing so as early as possible in your pregnancy, the gap between expectation and reality will not be so far apart. And instead of feeling the pain of disappointment, you can bask in the joy of satisfaction: satisfaction in all that is messy, imperfect and normal about real life.
Overcoming the normal challenges of real life builds resiliency. And the satisfaction of “bouncing back” or being able to “weather the storm” builds confidence in your ability as an individual and as a couple to navigate what it is to become a family.
And that helps to make The Disappointment Gap simply disappear.
If you’re expecting a baby or are newly parenting and you feel like working with someone who will set you up with realistic expectations about pregnancy, birth and parenting check out my Parent Coaching page and get in touch! I’d love to have you in one of my classes, work with you one on one, or schedule some long-distance sessions with you and your partner. I’m committed to closing The Disappointment Gap and building confident and resilient families that thrive!