Joy in Motherhood: Overcoming the gap between Expectations and Reality

Joys of motherhood

This week Bianca and Marissa chat about societal expectations around motherhood all the way from getting pregnant to the parenting experience and joy in Motherhood. They also talk about the ways in which we can reclaim joys of motherhood, play, connection, and love in our identities as mothers and how that experience can be deeply healing and transformational. They discuss the harmful idea that there is some sort of magical list of steps to follow in order to achieve the dream of a happy, peaceful, nuclear family. 

Click here for the transcript

This week featuring:                                                                                                                                                          

Bianca Sprague feels especially passionate about creating access to quality pre & postnatal care for marginalized communities. She is an advocate for mental wellness for the entire family, and especially for the birthing parent, after suffering from PPD in silence and losing her father to suicide in 2012. She recognizes the barriers put in place for female entrepreneurs and believes that understanding the evolving online space can even the playing field for women in business.




Marissa Bolaños is a Mexican audiovisual artist, writer, activist, birth worker, and parenting coach who lives in Olympia, WA with her two children. She hosts the podcast La Revolución del Parto about homebirth in Latin America. Marissa is passionate about reproductive justice, permaculture, and bringing joy in motherhood.





Hot + Brave The Blog-Cast:

How to Reclaim Joy in Motherhood

Welcome back to the Hot + Brave blog everyone! This week Bianca talks with one of the show’s favourite guests – Marissa Bolaños. Marissa and Bianca love delving into the realities of parenting and illuminating the gaps that exist between our lived experience and our expectations. This is exactly the theme of the podcast this week. 

The gap between expectations and reality can be quite significant. We see this all around us; from the images in pop culture that tell us how our bodies should look and the curated social media channels that dictate what our happiness should look like. When it comes to parenting it is no different. Society shapes the way we think and influences what we perceive as a “good mom” or a “ideal parent” and for some people, the discrepancy between what you want and what actually happens can hit pretty early on.

Common Pregnancy Realities

Issues can pop up that cause a divide between expectation and reality before a baby is even born. We want the perfect pregnancy, to reflect that societal image of the glowing pregnant person. However, this is so a-typical. Things like persistent sickness, gestational diabetes, or even having different belly shapes are all very common occurrences but they are labeled as a negative aberration – something that might happen, but shouldn’t. As a result, we often blame ourselves and pick apart our lives and decisions to see what we did wrong.  The expectation is that everything will go smoothly, but this is not close to what happens in reality. People do not expect anything outside of the glowing, happy pregnancy to be part of their journey, and they can end up feeling like they are failing before they have even had the baby. This is not okay. There is no blueprint to pregnancy, or to life so that matter. It is a journey that is full of ups and downs, but the joy in motherhood and fulfillment it brings are immeasurable.

Empowering Birth Choices

Moving from pregnancy to birth, it is during birth that so many people give up their own power so that they look like a good patient or a good wife. They say they want a vaginal birth, yet they are told that they should get a c-section. They are made to be afraid and not given enough evidence-based information to make decisions for themselves. Instead, they are often subject to the whim of others and what they think the birther should do. This is already such a different reality than what one expected for themselves. The authority of doctors or pressure from family can and does often lead birthers to make a decision that appeases others instead of what they actually want or expected. 

When we see these types of gaps between expectation and reality it usually signals a lack of autonomy. Women and birthers are constantly told that it doesn’t matter how the birth goes; as long as at the end you have a healthy baby. Because of this they are subject to so many violations in the birth space because they are dehumanised in the process of having a baby. But what you want and  expect matters! It is your life and you are the one giving birth; the fact that you have a baby at the end is not a reward, the whole process is important, not just the end goal. Of course we want to have healthy and happy babies; but a healthy and happy birther is just as important! As Marissa puts it, in this week’s episode, “You can be humiliated, you can be dehumanised, but at the end of the day, you get a reward and that is your baby, and it’s all good. So you will forget about it.” We need to make sure we are not forgetting about the one who is giving birth as well as the baby itself. Hiring a doula can help make this process easier and ensure that there is an advocate present. However, this does not ensure that everything will be fine . Instead, it helps to mitigate the gap between expectation and reality, where a professional is able to actually prepare you for the randomness of birth. 

Mental load of motherhood

Another area of grief, connected to the gap between expectation and reality is the assumption that when the baby arrives, an “instinct” will kick in and you will just shift gears to know what to do. This is a dangerous expectation. It is not a reality, even scientifically speaking. The truth is that there is no one, single right way to do things, so the expectation that some mothering or parenting gene will just kick in sets us up for failure. There is no “magic mother instant guiding their decisions when they have a baby” (Marissa Bolaños). On top of this, waiting for this instinct to kick in blurs the distinction between the work and joy in motherhood (or parenting) and the relationship of it. The amount of work it takes to parent is underrepresented. Most is unpaid, not recognized or celebrated – and most of it is just dropped on the laps of mothers. This makes it hard to have time to enjoy the relationship part, if you even have time for the relationship part. The joy in motherhood is, to seeing your child grow and develop 

Nuclear family Model

It is important to know what you want, yet often we are accused of expecting too much – when in reality you are unable to catch your breath and all you are expecting is help. In this week’s episode, Bianca and Marissa bring up the nuclear family model and how it shapes our expectations. The nuclear family is a failed experiment where you expect bliss from two people raising a child, and there might be some bumps along the road but together you will get through it. However, this model is a newer way of organising the family. It’s not done in many parts of the world. In many cultures having many generations under one roof is typical and helps in household task management, and dispersing the work aspect of parenting to several people. When we put all our eggs into the nuclear family “basket” and, the reality of the model is that it does not work, we can be left drained and with unfulfilled expectations. The expectation is also not only something that is self imposed. We feel it from the outside; from our friends, families, other parents at the daycare or school. Which then gives us feelings of guilt and shame that make us think we must be doing something wrong. It is important to remember that someone else’s expectation of you or what you should be doing is not always what you should do.

True Role of Parenting

Despite all of this, Marissa offers some solutions, to help close the gap between expectation and reality. She advises us to focus on the relationship with our children (not the amount of work that they are). By this she means that as a society we focus so much on moulding children for the adult world, making them prepared to launch, making sure they are good people. Basically, we are providing them a life that is highly monitored. The thing is that you never know what is going to work and what is not. Some over-supervised children grow up and rebel and keep few life lessons from their parents. At the same time, some children with no supervision move on to be highly organized and motivated. So much is dependent on things we can’t control, like personality type, passions they develop on their own, or people that they meet later in life. When we try too hard to micromanage it can be at the cost of the relationship. On top of this,  we usually project an adult expectation on a person who is not old enough to even learn the lesson you are trying to teach, or understand what you are setting them up for. Prescriptive parenting is exhausting and does not have any guaranteed result. Taking time to get to know your children, their personality, their quirkiness, the things they love is key; not setting a predetermined goal and constantly being upset that your expectation does not match reality. It is easier said than done, that is true – but always working toward a goal that seems elusive is not easy either. 

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