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.