Is it any wonder women in our culture feel pushed, pulled, and bullied in all directions, no matter which way they turn?

We expect married people to have children; but not to do the things that create a family, like including children in their lives and making the adjustments that allow that inclusion to happen.  Instead, we expect them to bundle their children off to daycare, school, after-school care, and summer camp–and then we wonder how families get dysfunctional.

We expect women to walk on eggshells about pharmaceuticals, other harmful substances, food, stress, posture, and medical procedures throughout pregnancy; but we snark at them as “granola,” “foolishly optimistic,” or “spending too much time on the internet” if they question the use of narcotics, stimulants, the preservatives in those drugs, denial of food, hostile surroundings, lying on their backs, and unnecessary surgery for labor and birth.

We expect women to breastfeed; but not to do the things that go along with it, like nursing when the baby needs to eat even if that’s at a restaurant or on the bus or in the park, pumping at work, or taking an extended absence from work.

We expect women to be good mothers; but if they believe the best way to do that is to put their careers on hold, we say “Oh, so you’re just staying at home now?” as if motherhood isn’t really valuable work.

We expect women to have careers and be mothers at the same time; but when they go back to work, we expect them to be as temporally, mentally, and emotionally available to their work as they were before being responsible for the health and well-being of a brand new person.

The theme here is that parents are expected to tuck their parenthood away like some shameful or inconvenient condition.  I suspect this results from the instant-gratification-culture idea that we can make major life choices without making any correlated life adjustments.  Of course, that doesn’t work for parenthood any more than it does for marriage.  We can either treat parenthood as an inconvenience and spend our lives trying to escape from our choices, or we can treat it as an honor and live our lives learning to be our best at one of the most sacred trusts in the world.

We live in an amazing time, when we can quite reliably choose whether and when to have children.  I have a lot of respect for people who decide that children are not for them–that takes a lot of soul-searching, because it’s not the “expected” way of doing things.  I also have a lot of respect for people who consciously choose not only to have children, but to be parents.  That also is a soul-searching decision.  Adjustments have to be made, and those adjustments, sadly, aren’t the expected way of doing things either.

What can we do to fix these conflicted expectations?  Sweep our own doorsteps.  No culture exists as its own entity; each is made up of the individuals within it.  Each of us must take the time to make informed, careful decisions not based on anyone else’s expectations, take full responsibility for those decisions by following through with all the effort and personal growth needed, and be thereby secure enough in our own choices to respect the decisions and resulting life paths of others.  We will always have different points of view among us, and thank goodness for that.  But a little personal responsibility on all fronts goes a long way toward replacing conflict with perspective and respect.

So take a deep breath.  Your decisions are your own.  Anyone else’s expectations are their own burden of insecurity, not yours.