A few weeks ago I had coffee with some friends.  As often happens with people in their fifties who have children fast approaching college age, the talk turned to retirement.  Where do we want to retire.  I stated that I loved NYC, but was growing tired of the cold  winters and humid summers.  I was considering alternate locations to spend out the remainder of my life.  One friend said “But what about your daughter?  Don’t you want to be near her and your grandkids?”

Now lets think about a slightly different scenario.  I was watching a home show the other day.  Couple enters a house, and the first thing the wife says is “Can’t you imagine the girls walking down this staircase for prom?  And their weddings?”

What do these two situations have in common, other than I witnessed both?

They both include scenarios that show how people unknowingly put expectations on children.  Now, these might seem harmless, children, proms, weddings…..But are they really harmless?

Let’s say, I plan my retirement around my daughter living in New York City.  I tell her that I am going to stay here because she is here.  I tell her that I am going to stay here because of my grandchildren.  Now- what if my daughter doesn’t want to stay in NYC?  What if she wants to move to Chicago.  Does she feel guilt about moving to Chicago because I told her I’m making life plans to live in New York?  Does she end up living in a place she doesn’t want to, because I have the expectation of her living near me?

And Grandchildren.  What if my daughter doesn’t want children?  Is it fair to assume that I will be a Grandmother?  Where does my expectation fit in her reality?

How often do we unknowingly push our expectations of what a child’s life should look like?  How often do we expect them to fit in a “traditional” life plan?  Do Mom’s assume that their daughters will go to prom?  What if your child doesn’t get asked, or gets rejected?  What if proms are just not their thing?  As a parent, how disappointed are you going to be?  Have you purchased a house with a grand staircase just for the photo op?  Now weddings- who has dreamt about walking a child down the aisle of a church?  Well- what if your child doesn’t want to get married in a church?  What if they choose to follow a different religious path?  Your expectations.  Their reality.

You are now going to get another peak in what I like to call my mind.  Be warned- my thought process is not for the faint hearted.  On Monday I spoke of rote behavior.  On Tuesday I spoke of giving options, but letting kids choose what path to take.  Throw these ideas in a blender-( like that game “Can these things be blended?”)  The result is this- Set aside your rote expectations of what your children are “supposed” to be.  Let them choose their journey.

There is nothing wrong with taking your child to the park to toss a baseball (except in NYC where you need a ball throwing permit).  The activity it great- bonding time, lots of fun, fresh air, etc.  But when you take your 3 year old out to the field, are you thinking “This is going to be fun, sharing something I love with my kid” or is it, “If I start early enough, my kid could be the next Derrick Jeter.”  ?

I have a friend who is a huge sports nut.  His son likes art.  This Father made his kid play sports, because the Father wanted it.  This ended in what I will call stalemate.  Father makes son play.  Kid is in game but doesn’t try, makes errors.  Father yells at kid for not giving his best effort.  Kid says why should I give my best effort, I hate baseball.  I don’t want to be here.  Parental expectation.  Child reality.

There is no singular correct path to choose in life.  I repeat- there is no singular correct path to choose in life.  You weigh the options- list the pros and cons- choose what path fits.  When children are young, allow them the opportunity to make certain choices about their life.  Let them choose an activity that they love and look forward to- not one that you love, or think will make them famous, or look good on a resume.  When your children become adults, don’t pressure them to do things because they are “supposed” to.  (One word of clarification- all children should have the ability to support themselves.  You supporting them is not the option I’m talking about.  I realize that sometimes adults must live with parents due to health issues, but extreme situations aside, your kid needs to have a job and a dwelling)  Don’t pressure them about relationships, marriage, children, houses versus condos careers.  Don’t expect that their life trajectory is going to be exactly what yours was/is.

I’m going to close with an anecdote from my childhood.  When I was young, schools routinely administered IQ tests.  My IQ was on the higher side.  Because of this, my Mother had certain expectations of my abilities.  In third grade, I came home with a test.  I showed my Mom- “Look Mom.  I got a 98.”  Her answer…”If you tried harder you would have had 100″.  Repeat this scenario about a million times.  What kind of high school student do you think I was? Now, I ended up with a B average, which is OK, but I never studied.  I never tried at all.  I grew up thinking that nothing I did was good enough, so why bother trying.  This led me to about a billion lousy decisions in my life.  Up until I was 35 I was still trying to get my Mother’s approval- live up to her unrealistic expectations.  It wasn’t only in academics that she had unrealistic expectations.  It was in everything.

Think about the messages that you are sending your children.  You don’t have to agree with me- but just think about what expectations you are putting on your children.  And if those expectations are crushing your kids.


48 thoughts on “What to Expect When You Have Expectations 

  1. I hate the fact that so many parents try to live their lives through their children, setting their own goals on the shoulders of the young ones. For goodness sake, and for the sake of the kids, let them make their own mistakes, choose their own goals. Point them in the right direction, give the occasional nudge on the tiller when they start to drift off course, but be there to pick up the pieces if necessary, and to carry them a little way until they are back on their own feet, and then, let go!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Oh sister did you hit a nerve here!
    As a mother of an only child, (daughter) whom we homeschooled, who was born an introvert so she loved being home with her dad and I but had a handful of really good friends (most who were also homeschooled and of the same mindset as us), didn’t want to get her driver’s license (we lived out in the country so there were no other means of transportation), had a job after high school that she liked (I would drive her to and from) and had no desire to date (we believed in courtship vs dating), my expectations were really shattered when she met someone and got married (we gave them 10 acres of land) and my fairytale “and they all lived happily ever after as one big family where the grandkids came through the woods to Gramma’s house all the time and life was good”, did not happen.
    Our expectations (my hubs was on board with my fantasy) versus their reality just about killed us and came within a hair’s breath of severing all ties with them. It took us eight horrible years to finally come to terms with how wrong we were. 90% of all of the misunderstandings were our fault because of our stupid, unrealistic, and unhealthy expectations. We just assumed they would want to be close by because of our close relationship with our daughter.
    I could write a book on all the ways to destroy your relationship with your children. Thinking the whole time that they are at fault.
    Your post was spot-on.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! Parenting is such a fine line. We educate them to be open and understand the world, but then we don’t know what to do when their wants and needs are different than our own! Thanks again for great commentary!


  3. “Expectations vs. Reality!”

    Actually, parents can’t be totally blamed for ‘wanting the best’ for their kids by way of trying to guide them towards a particular path which they think is best for the kids. It’s only a natural weakness. However, it’s only fair that at some point, the kids should be allowed to follow their dreams (which we should endeavour to know about). We can only try to advise and guide them towards the actualisation of those dreams in a positive manner. This will breed mutual respect, and make them trust us enough to talk about anything.

    I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. Remain blessed always!👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a fellow fifty something with my son in his last year of college, and applying to medical school; I am with you. I love sports, and played them in college. It was unbelievably tough, but my wife and I allowed our son to take his own path. He didn’t like organized sports, so he soon became a black belt in karate, and took up the violin, and is now concert quality. It is tough to stand back, and not have expectations. My older son, and his wife, just gave us our first grandchild. We’re lucky that they made the choice to live in our area. Thank you for a great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. We do have to be aware of what expectations we might be putting on others. Now I live about an hour away from my grandchildren rather than in the east, south or west, for the convenience of seeing them. I have friends who live hours or continents away from theirs (note grandchildren is the linch pin here from my perspective), and they are happy with their choices. I think these days Messenger and Skpe erase some of the distance problems. I think everyone should just do what feels right to them. Good post!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The hardest thing in the world is for a parent to stand idly by and let their child make a mistake…knowing it’s gonna hurt…but it’s dead necessary for the child to learn. Mistakes always trump parental knowledge when it comes to learning.

    The smart parents know this, and steel themselves against the paternal instinct to protect and guide their young.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. My husband and I took a lot of heat from friends and family when we took a transfer to Florida, far away from our kids. But we reasoned that the kids were liable to end up where they found careers and should we choose to pass up this opportunity to move to Florida we could easily get stuck living in Illinois during our twilight years. Not that there’s anything wrong with Illinois (except winter) but we dreamt of a different lifestyle.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Excellent post. That resonated with me in so many ways. I’ve been fortunate enough to notice a few mistakes others have made, and (I hope) sensible enough to avoid them myself. I had a friend who married and didn’t want children, but his parents put immense pressure on him to do so, because they wanted grandchildren. Misery. I’ve seen clever kids who were never quite clever enough for their ambitious parents. Misery. Parents who failed at what they tried, and were determined to get a second chance of success by directing their kids’ lives towards accomplishing those things they failed at. Misery, misery, misery.

    My kids knew that at school they made their own choices of subject and career. I advised them to take those subjects they enjoyed. i encouraged them to work hard, relax often and be themselves. i told them the choice of having kids of their own or not was theirs alone, and would never change the way i felt towards them.

    Anything else, I think, is wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I loved this post! It’s so easy to project our own ideas about success and fulfillment onto our children, and not to see that their ideas of success and fulfillment are often so very different from ours. I think most parents mean well, and are simply trying to give their children the “perfect life” that they wanted but did not have. But they forget the simple fact that there is no perfect life, that happiness is something that happens when we choose to live fully even among all the mess that real life brings, and that the best way we can love our children is to let them discover, and be, who they really are.
    Trust me, I’m STILL working on this!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Such a great post. This really hit me. It’s so easy to say things to our kids that we don’t realize are wrong. I’ve had to catch myself a few times because I’ve always been a perfectionist and I’m hard on myself. I have to stop myself from doing that to my kids. Nobody’s perfect. Each one of my kids is different and unique in their own ways. This is great advice…Thank you for sharing this. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I enjoyed reading this, and your previous post. It is all too easy to slip into dwelling on our expectations for our children – which usually just ends in us feeling disappointment, which then the child easily can pick up on. 😦 I have a child with special needs (whom you will probably read about in a future post of mine) and that has totally changed how I feel about expectations. I have had to first: recognize and acknowledge ALL the expectations I had and still find that I have, and second: rediscover who my child really is, and what HER expectations and desires are. There is true joy in really watching someone reach a goal they have set – and achieved – for themselves. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My children have both chose their own path, my only requirement was that it was something they loved not just to pay bills. They can and will change their minds and paths over the years and you have to try to roll with it or you will be miserable. As long as they can “adult” and be a contributing member of society you have won the parenting game!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I appreciate your viewpoint. I lost my son 13 years ago in a car accident. I am almost to the place I can retire. My late husband and I bought our forever home on our second year Anniversary. I am still living in the forever home although Jerry, my husband would not recognize it now. We live by a river inlet two blocks from my house. I thank you for writing your blog. i really enjoy reading it and thank you for reading mine as well. have great neighbors and plan to stay in my home town.

    Liked by 1 person

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