Parenting with expectations – helpful or not?

by | Parenting with Courage

Do your expectations boost or break down your relationship with your children?

​Children are, well, children. They break things, stumble and fall. They don’t always know why they did what they did. Children make us laugh (and cry).

Did you know that unrealistic expectations of your children can hinder their emotional, mental and physical well-being? But, what is it about being a parent that makes navigating expectations so hard?

The word expectation comes from the Latin word meaning ‘an awaiting’. It is a strong belief that something will happen or be the case. This word, if not properly managed, is fraught with disappointments and pain.

It’s a fine line to navigate because setting certain expectations is part of parenting.

Healthy expectations let your children know what’s important in your home and family. It can help guide them in knowing what they can work towards as they grow up. For example, in our household, we have set the expectation of living out of a team. We expect that our children and we do what makes for the success of our team. It’s not unrealistic, and we all play our part, helping around the house, caring and loving each other.

How can we navigate expectations of ourselves as parents?

Whoever fed us the lie that we need to be the perfect mom or dad? Our parents never struggled with this syndrome. Perhaps it is attributed to social media and the plethora of news out there. With the fear of harming our children psychologically, we unnecessarily pressure ourselves to not make a mistake. 

Children who excel reflect our (excellent) parenting ability – what a lie! If I’m honest, how many of us feel much better about ourselv

es when our children perform well. It’s as if their performance is an indicator of our parenting ability. Come on moms and dads, let’s get rid of this unrealistic expectation. It makes us stressed and tired.

Father's commission

Five unrealistic expectations we can place on our children.

They have to always be in a good mood. Just like us, our children experience different feelings. They are not always happy-go-lucky. Perhaps they are hungry, tired, over-stimulated, frustrated or hurt? Give them space to be who they are and help them understand that you love them – and that will never change.

They have to excel at school. Consider doing away with this expectation completely and rather set healthy goals. Then, relax a little and make time to laugh. Set effort expectations with your kids.

They have to like what we like. Far be it from our children that they don’t like meat as much as we do or enjoy the same sport as their dad. We all know it in our heads, but when reality bites, it’s a much harder pill to swallow. Think about this in advance. How will you help uncover the gifts and talents in your children and release them into what makes them come alive?

They will always be thankful. Children (like us) are not always grateful, however, it is something that they can learn and develop. Give them room and help them cultivate that skill.

Have a childhood like ours. Have you caught yourself saying to your children, “When I was your age, we [insert said activity here]? Not only do they live in a different generation, but the rules of the game have changed. We would offer our children a gift if we embraced this fact and adapted the way we parented. Let them have their own childhood and celebrate life.

expectationsYou children will drop the glass of milk, tell a lie, backchat you at some stage and fight with their sibling. However, parenting them through these years and managing expectations means that everyone must pass these two tests:

The reality test

Might it be helpful to ask yourself? Is what I’m expecting of my child realistic of their abilities and desires? Often our expectation and reality do not come close on the continuum of life.

I can use this check not only in my parenting but in all areas of my life. How do I, as a mother, manage and navigate my expectations of my children, my husband, family, and friendships? Unmet expectations hurt our hearts.

The relationship test

Every interaction, be it a joy-filled moment or a disciplining encounter, are building blocks in the relationship with our son or daughter. When we keep a relationship in mind, we can more easily adjust our expectations to a healthy level. If we expect our children to excel in various areas at the expense of peace in our home or their joy, then we slowly erode trust and relationship.

The relationship is your number one priority in managing expectations. Structure and rules should never take the place of your relationship with your children; I’m not advocating a home with no discipline or boundaries in place. All of us need to have these in place. We show love to our children when we discipline them. Let them be kids and help them keep on learning. We are learning all the time – oh, and don’t forget to laugh a little.

Let me know how do you manage expectations in your household?


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