For a decade-plus run in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Fox had a sketch comedy show called MadTV. While it never gained the traction and acclaim of Saturday Night Live, the show did deliver some ridiculously hilarious sketches. As I was working through what I wanted to share in today’s blog post, I settled on revisiting all the expectations surrounding parenthood. I have no idea if it makes sense or not, but I immediately thought of the MadTV sketch called Lowered Expectations. The skit was a mock video dating service (wow I feel old typing that) that purported to be exclusive to the less desirable. The tagline read: “Our video library allows you to choose from thousands of chronically rejected singles, just as hard-up and pathetic as you. So good luck. You’ll need it.” The skit would then be a 60 second video of one of the ‘candidates’. The candidate would inevitably be outrageously un-dateable: a woman whispering ‘murder’ after every sentence, a rage-a-holic quickly getting fired up when talking about her preferences, or a man obsessed with off-putting and disgusting innuendo. What in the world does this have to do with parenting? I’m glad you asked…
The reason this old comedy sketch popped into my head was because I realized how drastically my expectations of my own parenting compared between the time before our first daughter was born and the current state six months into daughter #2. When you first find out you’re going to be a parent (or even before in some cases), you have an idealized version of each and every facet of your future child’s life. I was no different; I knew what my kids would be eating, I knew how they would be educated, and I absolutely knew how they would be disciplined. My wife and I had a vision (though we sometimes…differed…) and nothing could stop us on our path to ultimate parenthood.
To continue the dating service analogy, we were going to be the fit, wealthy, hilarious personification of everything you might want in a partner. As a parent, it was going to be zero screen time, organic this and organic that, home cooked meals into infinity, and the pleasant patience of Mother Teresa under all circumstances. Then this funny little thing happened: the kid. Once Eliza came, we were introduced to stresses and moments we knew were coming but had vastly underestimated. We can laugh and smile about sleep deprivation for new parents, but when you hit night #215 with less than four hours of continuous sleep, it doesn’t quite seem as amusing. When Eliza screams and kicks on the grocery store floor while I can feel the piercing and judgmental stares of dozens of bystanders…Mother Teresa sure isn’t who I’m channeling to deal with the situation.
Perhaps without our consent, my wife and I’s expectations have generously lowered here and there. While it’s funny to look back and think about the pre-kid days when we *knew* exactly what we would be like as parents, I don’t regret those elevated goals and idealistic aspirations. To use a quote and metaphor I have used previously, there’s some saying that goes along the lines of “If you reach for the moon and miss, you’ll still be amongst the stars”; I guess the point being is that if you attempt to do whatever it is you believe the best parenting practice is, you’ll still wind up reasonably close. There’s no such thing as perfection in parenting, but unfortunately many of us never learn this until we actually, you know, have kids.
Returning to the dating service analogy, my wife and I are no longer among the most desirables. We belong in the lowered expectations camp, where we have our delightful little idiosyncrasies. We have accepted our new lot and do our best to give each other grace when things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes dinner comes from the microwave. Sometimes Daniel Tiger or Paw Patrol buys us 30 minutes of clarity. And there are even times when I lose my stinking mind and threaten to make Eliza’s timeout last until she’s 25. We do our best to imitate our idealized versions of great parents, but we now understand that we maybe, possibly, potentially could have underestimated the difficulties of parenthood. And with that, we have lowered expectations….