The Anticipation Trap

No amount of preparation or knowledge is ever going to be sufficient to prepare you for what's coming down the parenthood pipe. Sorry to kick your legs right out of from underneath you with my first sentence, but I look at this like I look at ripping off a band-aid.

When I was a kid, I was almost ridiculously afraid of any kind of pain, whether real or imagined. I would nurse a band-aid off of my arm hair for a good three hours . . . unless my mom caught me unfocused, in which case she'd pounce like a tiger and have the thing removed in 1.3 seconds. But still I carried on with this charade. It's funny now. Mostly because I discovered that I actually have a really high pain tolerance (labor has a way of making you very self-aware).

But now I'm an adult. I can rip off my own band-aids . . . and my kids' . . . without even blinking. I feel no remorse. I'm doing them the same favor that my mother did for me. And after my ridiculously entertaining/mortifying week, I've decided to do everyone that reads this blog a favor too. So let me just tell it like it is.

You can't really prepare for parenthood. I know there are mountains of parenting books that supposedly serve this very purpose. They're designed to prep you for the experience that you're about to have. And they may serve to help you develop a more patient attitude or better parenting habits, but they also lure you into what I like to refer to as the anticipation trap. They make you believe that you can somehow know what your kids will do in any given situation. They make you believe that you can anticipate your kid's next move and therefore respond with your superhero-like parenting to correct or change the situation.

But from one parent to another, can I just say that YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S COMING! I'm sorry. But you don't and I don't. This parenting thing is a day at a time. You're working with a live product. You can't guarantee a desired response or a desired behavior from something with a fully-functioning brain. It's simple math . . . at least I think it is because actually I suck at math . . . but there just seem to be way too many variables for this to turn out in our favor.

Lest you think I don't have any proof, let me take you into the public restroom with me and my four-year old daughter. This scenario is more often dangerous than not, but there I was anyway, convinced that I knew what embarrassing thing she'd say and how to stop her dead in her tracks. After all, I'm a seasoned parent and Haylee has given me ample practice, bless her sweet, wild heart.

I was sure she was going to start talking about poop in the loudest voice imaginable. She always does. I was anticipating her every word because I was sure that I could. After all, I'm the parent. If I don't know what's going on here then who does? That was the moment I walked into the anticipation trap. And that is what left me completely unprepared for what happened next.

She peed. No mention of poop, no grunting, no peeking under the stall at random strangers. Awesome. My turn. I pee and then start tightening my belt. And if the truth must be told I was silently gloating. Obviously I was supermom because Haylee and I both just used the public restroom and she didn't say anything embarrassing. I don't know why anyone tells you to knock on wood because it doesn't do anything.

"Mom, if you're a girl, how come you have a boy pee-pee?"

I was so stunned that I forgot about the fact that there were probably other people in the bathroom.

"WHAT!? I have the same kind as you!"

"No you don't. It was sticking out like a boy's. I saw it."

"You most certainly did NOT!"

"Yes, I did!"

From that moment to this I STILL cannot figure out what she saw. I was wearing a sort of tan colored belt and the only thing I can think of is that she caught a glimpse of it as she stood there twirling in the stall. Sorry, graphic, I know, but I really have no idea.

"No, Haylee, you didn't. I have the same kind as you."


She didn't even acknowledge my "rightness." She just consigned herself to the fact that I was obviously going to continue to lie to her, so she gave up the argument. I wanted to keep fighting. If I didn't think it would be overly weird, I would've dropped my drawers right then. But can you imagine the conversation that would've been overheard then? Yeah, you see where I'm going with this.

I walk out of the bathroom with that little four-year old hand in mine and my only thought was, "Wow. Nothing could have prepared me for that one. I have no idea what I'm doing."

But you know what? I'm not really supposed to know what I'm doing. None of us are. That's where the anticipation trap gets us. We start believing that we can plan things out. We can carry on conversations in our mind because that's how they're going to go in real life. We can teach and train and then we'll have these amazing, perfectly behaved trophies called children. Everybody is jealous of the people with all the trophies.

Here's the reality: you can't anticipate and you can't control. Not any of it. The only thing you can do is become the kind of person you hope your children will be. Your control stops at you. So if you want to control someone, control yourself. You have every bit of power in that situation. In that one thing, you're not helpless.

You can choose to wake up every day sharp as a tack, ready to handle whatever question (or statement, if you have a Haylee in your house) comes your way. You can choose to be prepared. You can choose to refine your virtues and whittle away your vices. You can choose to smile and to laugh and even to play into your children's sense of wonder and excitement (although I don't recommend pretending you have any body parts which you don't actually have . . . that will cause major confusion). You can choose to get a kick out of your children instead of feeling embarrassment or dread. You can choose to let the frustration slip away and to love your children regardless.

I was feeling really frustrated just this evening. Nobody was listening to a word I said, messes were being made and left everywhere, and there was all sorts of screaming going on. I was ranting about how I wasn't a slave and how it was impossible for me to keep a house clean if a tornado was raging behind me. I must have looked like I was ready to rip out my hair when my seven-year old came up with a solution to my problem.

"Hey Mom, you should grow out your hair like Tangled (Rapunzel). Then when we're naughty like this you can tie us all up together on a bench, but you'll still be able to get all your cleaning done. You could probably reach the whole house with hair like that, even if we were all chubby."

I had two choices at this point. I could have continued to rant and rave about how it wasn't my responsibility to clean up after everyone constantly. Or I could laugh. I could give in to the lighthearted way that my children saw this situation.

Copyright: BriAnne Huwe
Copyright: BriAnne Huwe

I'm proud to say that tonight I chose to laugh. I chose to ignore the fact that my children see me as their slave and instead to remember that they see me that way because they know I'd do anything for them. They're not yet old enough to see the difference. I chose to smile because to them, Mom is Wonder Woman. Mom can do anything. Tonight I let them believe that. I let them know that Mommy can smile even when she's frustrated. I let them see that even though I couldn't control a situation, I was capable of dealing with it.

Don't fall into the anticipation trap. It's a hole filled with unmet expectations and unneeded disappointments. Let go of the control. Forget about the trophies. Nobody likes a bragger with a display case full of their accomplishments anyway.

4 thoughts on “The Anticipation Trap

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  2. Sarah

    You are fabulous. I had a similarly enlightening experience one day at church. One of my kids was being a beast and my friend behind started laughing. I thought, "I need to change my perspective on this, obviously." Keep on rocking! Love your guts.

    1. The feeling is mutual, my friend.:) Yeah, I'm pretty sure that I never quite see it like everyone else's probably time to start. Of course, it's always easier to laugh when it's someone else's kid with their finger stuffed up their nose.:)

  3. A mission is, in a way, similar in that there are tons of things people do to prepare, but you know what? Once you get on one you really have no clue what you're talking about and you have no idea what you're getting in to. It's a day-to-day thing! No matter how well I have planned as a teacher or a missionary, I end up having to adjust, many times in ways I never imagined. I know life in general is the same way.

    Even though I am not a parent, I have had little experiences with parenting as an uncle and as a teacher. I enjoyed reading your blog not only for the ridiculously funny stories about your kids (made all the more hilarious because of my own experiences with you and Kyle!), but the very practical advice. I've always been the one to silently laugh at new parents who "have it all planned out" for what they're going to do in every instance. Oh really? I hope when (if?) that time finally comes for me, I'm not one of them. Nothing wrong with having hopes and dreams for your kids, but keep it real and be flexible. 🙂


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