Mother talks closely with her child, behind the mother is paperwork, planning materials, scans, and behind the child is clothes, toys, and snacks

Previously Held Expectations

I think it’s pretty common, but before I became a parent, I had VERY specific ideas of what kind of parent I would be.

I wouldn’t use electronics, no fast food, no processed foods, I would feed my children homemade bread while sitting on a picnic blanket, and robins sang in the background.

Those of you who are parents are probably laughing at me, I’m laughing at myself, horrified by my own naivety.

Journey to motherhood

My journey to motherhood wasn’t linear or easy. I never got to carry a child or didn’t get to have those sleepless nights. I met my daughter when she was 3; within a year, her other mom was diagnosed with ABC (Advanced Breast Cancer). I expected to pivot my goals, what was working for me, and what wasn't, I never expected the whole world shift that comes with learning to parent in cancerland.

Those first few months after my partner Steph's stage 4 diagnosis, honestly, that whole entire first year was all-consuming. It felt impossible to focus on anything other than cancer. More than anyone, our daughter was affected by this the most, with the pandemic still incredibly active at the time we pulled inwards.

Our daughter lost her routine of having her nanny come and help every day, and many people stopped coming to visit. Some left our life entirely. While Steph and I could understand the hard truth that some of these people left because it was what was best for them, it left my daughter feeling abandoned.

How cancer affected my parenting

I don't know about other parents, but with the distance I have now from that first difficult year, I know that I judged myself so harshly. I constantly worried about if I was doing enough for my daughter if she was spending too much time inside, on her tablet, and eating the right things.

My expectation to be the mom of my dreams felt gone before I could even fully settle into motherhood. How could I ever achieve motherly nirvana in between scheduling appointments, coordinating surgeries and radiation, and caring for my partner? The answer was easy, I couldn't.

Trying to be supermom and super-caregiver was breaking me and keeping me from being either. Cancer affected our family dynamic, and I have less bandwidth free than I might once have had to make room for those picnic dreams.

What matters is showing up

While the answer might have been easy, accepting it wasn't. Letting go of the expectation of what kind of parent I wanted to be wasn't easy. I was worried others would judge me or that I would do a bad job. It's something I'm still working on.

I've overcompensated in lots of ways, spent too much money on things I felt like my daughter HAD to have when really all she wanted was focused time with my partner and me. I'm almost ashamed to say that it was that simple, but it was. It doesn't matter if she has screen time or eats vegetables.

It matters that we show up for her in whatever way that we can. That first year I was keeping myself from being present with my expectations. A mentality of all or nothing. It didn't matter if it was only five minutes and didn't feel like how I expected it to. What mattered was that she felt seen.

Taking each day as it comes

We take each day as it comes. I forgive myself when the food I feed my kid comes in a red box with arches instead of fresh from the oven.

When my daughter spends more than the recommended time on screens, I take a deep breath, I'm not failing her. I'm doing my best. My best not be the same as someone else's best. Someone else might not live in cancerland and have to tailor their life to fit that need. We're different people on different paths.

While there might not be organic homemade bread every day, and there are no robins singing in the background, I think we're doing okay. It isn't the food, the lack of screen time, or even the journey to motherhood that makes me a mother. It's this tiny person, their hand in mine, and the way I show up for them every day.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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