The transition to parenthood is a significant period in any new parent’s life. People often feel optimistic and excited, as the birth of a baby is often associated with joy and celebration. Sometimes family and friends express more excitement than an expectant parent may be feeling. It often takes time for expectant parents to get their head around the new concept of becoming a parent.
The journey to parenthood is a time of great change and adjustment for everyone. Most parents need some time to adjust to their new role. Amidst the joy and celebration, new parenthood can sometimes feel hard. Life will look and be significantly different whilst the settling in occurs. It is good to know that, for many parents, this adjustment gradually happens over the first year.
People may have high expectations of themselves without realising it. These expectations may include:
- I manage 20 people at work so I am used to a lot of responsibility
- The baby’s routine will fit around mine
- I am used to not getting much sleep so I will be fine
- While the baby sleeps, I’ll be able to get all the housework and chores done
- I will automatically fall in love with my baby
- Parenting is natural so I will know what to do
- I’ve wanted to become a parent so much; I know it will make me happy
People who set high and often unrealistic standards for themselves may already be familiar with the term “perfectionism”. These expectations and standards can lead to feelings of failure and low self-esteem as parents are often unable to meet them. Research shows that, in some cases, this can lead to higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression after birth.
We all hold expectations about ourselves and about parenthood– it is normal. However, reflecting upon how realistic your expectations are in advance, and seeing if you can adjust any and add more flexibility into your style or ways of thinking can make the transition to parenthood smoother.
First-time mothers’ expectations of parenthood: What happens when optimistic expectations are not matched by later experiences? Harwood et al. (2007)
Mother’s expectations of parenthood: The impact of prenatal expectations on self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and stress post birth. Lazarus & Rossouw. (2015)