How your Parental Expectations May Be Sabotaging Your Child

By Chudney Drew, MA, LPCA

Close your eyes and think back to the day your child was born. Remember the moment your eyes locked with one another and the feeling of holding one of God’s greatest gifts for the first time. Did you imagine looking into the innocent eyes of your child and envisioning the rest of their lives? They would attend Montessori preschool, go to soccer and dance lessons, earn all A’s from Kindergarten to 12th grade. Then they would receive piano lessons, become fluent in French or Mandarin, have nice friends from nice families that look just like our family. And the college years—they would attend our Alma Mater or at the very least, an Ivy League School, no screw-ups in college, and then off to graduate school to be mommy or daddy’s next protégé. Now open your eyes and fast forward to today and ask yourself, “Am I struggling with the fact my child hasn’t received all A’s since first grade, and he’s now a C student in 9th grade?” Or “my rising senior just told me she wants to take a gap year and find herself?” Or “my 5-year-old refuses to play the sport I love and cries at every match he plays in.” Your vision and expectations may be sabotaging your relationship with your child.Parent hand touching Child's hand

As parents we struggle the most when we become stuck in a mental utopia of visions and expectations for our children that have no room or space for imperfection. Oftentimes, this struggle is compounded when we define our children by who we want them to be versus who they are. We suffer the most when we want to pursue a life for our children that does not belong to them. When expectations are not met, pain ensues, and we may place the blame on our children for not living up to our expectations—even if they are unreasonable expectations. Most often, what we want for our child comes from what we are used to: our family when we were growing up, our own personalities and unfulfilled dreams. We have been taught to imitate something and want something, that we project onto our children, but it doesn’t belong to us or our children, and will ultimately cause them suffering. If the family you grew up in went to college and graduate school to pursue a career in law, you would probably expect, at the very minimum, for your child to attend college. But what if he says he does not want to pursue higher education but wants to go to culinary school to become a chef? Or, when your adolescent chooses to quit the math and science club to pursue creative arts?

The inability to release our parental expectations creates a barrier in our parent/child relationship, blocks effective communication, and is harmful to a child’s sense of self.

Unrealistic expectations are the thieves of happiness. These thieves rob you of the opportunity to have an authentic and wholehearted relationship with your child. When we as parents remain stuck in our unrealistic expectations, we indirectly tell our children there is little tolerance for disappointment. While not meaning to, our plans for them can rob them of joy during their childhood years and make them more susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression. Inadvertently, we show our children that we only see their imperfections and inadequacies. The foundation of a healthy parent-child relationship is emotional security. Your child should know they can become who they want to be without a sense of fear, abandonment, and rejection. Children, above all else, want to be accepted, heard, and validated by their parents. Adjusting your expectations for your child will allow them to pursue their individual path and life they have chosen independently. They will be free to exist authentically and wholeheartedly pursue their own dreams. And you as a parent will also begin to experience the kind of joyous, authentic relationship with your child that God intended.

As parents we have the power to change our expectations. We need to remember that our children are individuals, and if we have formed expectations that they cannot live up to, it’s not their fault. In parenting, we should look to God and trust Him, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). His promises are absolutely sound, and our expectation that He will fulfill His word is the definition of faith. When based on God’s word, our expectations will never fail to be met.