“Is it wrong to have certain expectations from my child?” a parent asked me - at a recent Parenting workshop that I was conducting.
It was a sad question – from a sad parent.
A parent who wanted the best for her child but was confused because she didn’t know how to want – without expecting.
In my practice as a Parenting and Wellness Consultant – I find a lot of parents facing this dilemma. Are you one of them?
If you are as confused and sad as this lady – I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
Parenting is learnt by trial and error. And as they gingerly tread unknown terrain - conscientious parents are constantly on the lookout for parenting mistakes that parents before them have made – so that they don’t repeat them.
Any story about any parenting experience that may have gone wrong for anyone is terrifying and stories about parental EXPECTATION – and how it has destroyed the lives of children – are available in abundance.
No one wants to be ‘that parent’ who destroyed their child’s life because of their expectations
But should you throw expectations - lock stock and barrel – out of the window?
No you should not!
A complete lack of expectation is read by your youngster as
“Why expect anything of you? You probably couldn’t do it anyway”
And such lack of faith wipes out the child’s feeling of value.
It is important for parents to expect the best from their children – because what you expect is what you get. But it is crucial not to be rigid and unforgiving in deciding what that best is.
As a parent - you are the most important person in your child’s life. And because you are so important - your approval is your child’s oxygen line. Children are on a mission to seek your approval. Everything children do – they do for your approval. And as they seek your approval – they come face to face with the force of your expectations whether or not you put them into words.
When you have expectations that are rigid and unforgiving – you are sure to be disappointed by your child. And when your child discovers that he is the source of your unhappiness and disappointment he is shattered – and grows up with low self-esteem.
When a child repeatedly encounters failure – he begins to believe
“I am worthless”
And when there is constant parental pressure to do more or do better – it tells the child –
“You are not good enough”
Children never question their parent’s expectations.
Instead when children fail to meet their parent’s expectations – they begin to feel less valuable.
It is a fine line that parents need to walk therefore and it is vital to subject Parental expectations to this audit to have high expectations but ensure that these expectations are not damaging
Subject every expectation you have from your child – to this 4 point PARENTAL EXPECTATION AUDIT
1. Why do I have this expectation? Where did it come from?
Many of the expectations that we have are borrowed from the expectations that our parents had from us or are blueprints adopted from our culture. Many of these expectations are outdated or highly questionable. But we usually do not question them
Girls should play with dolls but boys never should
All boys should be good athletes
Boys shouldn’t cry
– are examples of such expectations
Remember to question the origin of each expectation
2. Does my expectation realistically fit my child at his age and with his temperament and background?
A close examination of our expectations is likely to reveal that many of the expectations that we have do not match the stages of development that our children are in.
A lot of times we expect children to behave like miniature adults which is extremely unfair to the child.
Also - behaviour – it is important to remember - is caused by external factors and it is important to look at those external factors and make allowances in what to expect. Stressors like fatigue, hunger and fear - that affect a child severely are often disregarded completely by well-meaning parents.
Base your expectations on keen observation and a sympathetic consideration of your child’s past and present pressures and you will be unlikely to go wrong.
3. What’s in it for me? Does my expectation fulfil my needs or my child’s?
Expectations must always be looked at and examined with a microscope. Many of our expectations for our children are designed to meet our own unmet wishes.
It is easy to camouflage a need in yourself as a need in your child and build an expectation around fulfilling that need. This is how the expectations that are most damaging to children are generated.
When we push children to get all A’s, win the lead in the play or get elected to office we do so because we want to bask in the reflected glory. We compel our children to harvest distinctions to feed our needs.
We may do so because we crave a certain status but realize that we cannot earn it through our own efforts – so we unconsciously push our child to fill the gap. Or we see our children as extensions of ourselves instead of separate individuals and fear that the lustre of our own star could be dulled if they are any less than outstanding.
Steer clear of unconscious camouflage. Live your own life. Let your child live his or hers.
4. What purpose does my expectation serve?
As soon as we hold our newborn babies in our arms – we put together a mental blueprint of what that baby will be like as an adult. In the majority of cases – this blueprint is made randomly – and does not fit the uniqueness of the child.
When we fail to examine and edit this blueprint frequently – we force expectations that are contrary to the nature of our child upon him/her. Our expectations in such cases have the sole purpose of getting the child to fit our mental blueprint of the image we have for him/her in our minds (however unreasonable that may be).
It is important to frequently question the image we create in our mind’s eye.
“Fit my blueprint or go unloved” is the terrifying message we convey when we are unable to let go of images that do not fit the uniqueness of our child. And nothing can be scarier than that for a child.
Expecting a studious quiet child to be boisterous and the life of every party is the example of such an expectation.
Children need to succeed to feel competent and worthwhile. And it is important for parents - to frequently tailor their expectations to ensure that their children succeed so that they build on their self-esteem. Failure is inevitable in life. But in the warm glow of positive self-esteem – failure is seen – not as proof of personal inadequacy – but as an area for growth
Tailor your expectations to build your child’s self- esteem.
A child with positive self-esteem will exceed all your expectations.