The First Step to Getting Out of Survival Mode – I Had to Let Go of the Fantasy

This post is an excerpt from my book Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection not Perfection. To enjoy my kids I had to come to grips with the fact that parenting would be nothing like I imagined and, in fact, many sweet, memorable moments often happen at the same time as the messy and loud moments.

Letting Go of How I Thought It Would Be

I started out parenting with stars in my eyes. I believed if I just tried hard enough I could do everything right and not make any mistakes. In fact, I built it up as the one thing I could not make mistakes in. I’d do it right! and everything would be cozy! and nice! and . . . perfect! I would be the envy of my other parent friends because I would do it “right.”

And then I had my first baby.

And oh man, everything was emotions and sleeplessness. It immediately became apparent that having a kid was not going to be just how I thought it would be. I felt jumbled and fearful; I was pretty sure I was doing it wrong, certainly not perfectly. I longed to feel competent again instead of confused.

Survival Mode

Years passed filled with ups and downs, sweetness and spit-up, and adding two more kids to our family.

I kept looking for the perfect solution to things like sleep, tantrums, eating . . . Each time I thought I had it figured out though, things would change, my kids would hit a new stage, and I’d be back to searching for another solution.

One day, I realized I was spending most of my time in survival mode, not enjoying the moment, enduring my kids rather than noticing them, and anxious the whole time that I was screwing it all up. I was worried I’d be filled with regret later if I couldn’t stop feeling so frantic and exhausted.

I needed a starting place to change how I was feeling. I didn’t want to spend their entire childhood in survival mode.

I thought about the brightest moments in my own childhood—they were often simple, like my mom teaching me to shuffle cards, or my dad teaching me to whistle with a blade of grass. I thought about the most treasured moments in our family life. Many of them were just as simple, and yet nothing like I thought they would be.

I’d pictured special times at our dining table doing crafts together. I didn’t realize some of our best memories would instead be made when we gave up on the failed craft and, to escape the house, drove down to eat lunch while watching trains.

I was focused on the end result of activities, like swimming lessons, and didn’t realize some of our most precious memories would be made on the way there, looking for prairie dogs that make their homes in the lot near the city pool.

When I thought parenting had to be perfect like the picture in my head, I hardly could enjoy the “perfectly imperfect” moments that came every day….

Field Notes: Letting Go
What did you imagine parenting to look and feel like? What shocked you about the reality versus your expectations? 

Do you have parenting “fantasies” or imaginings that are getting in the way of noticing the way your family really is? Would you like to let go of any of these ideas?


For more like this check out my book, Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection not Perfection. Read more here.