Healthy Conversations: Parent/Child Expectancy
Updated: Jun 17, 2021
I had an interesting conversation with a college student about the stresses she was enduring with everything in 2020-2021. She talked about COVID, college, and family. She was laid off of her job but she is hopeful on a position at the company next door to where she worked. An aunt she was very close too is very ill in ICU right now with COVID. Her boyfriend of 6 years broke up with her and her transmission went out on her car. "What a year" she said jokingly. Even with all of this going on in her life, she was cheerful, knowing God was still in control. Her faith is strong.
However, something deeper was pulling her down. Something she couldn't shake. Even with all of this going on, the deepest of her trials were coming from the two people who were always closest to her. Her parents. She explained that she's trying to live up to her parent's expectations of her and she felt it was putting a permanent wedge in their relationship. What she shared was so profound, it made me take a double look at my own parenting style. She has given me permission to share some of her story.
She is going to be a doctor. She is a second-year kinesiology major at a Christian University in Arizona. After she gets her BA in Kinese, she will go on to get her MA. Oh, don't forget the MCAT! Then there is the med school application, which her parents already have her planning. Her father is a prominent physician and he is an alumni of Boston University School of Medicine. So of course, dad is getting all the steps necessary for her to attend there too. He's not looking into any other med school for her.
Mother on the other hand, is a well established Psychologist. Mother is a bit more sensitive to her daughters feelings. She doesn't expect her daughter to go her Alma Mater, nor her father's Alma Mater. Mom respects her daughters decisions and she feels her daughter should be able to decide which med school she would like to attend. She even wants to give her daughter the freedom to choose which specialty she would like to practice!
"My parents have always been strict. There's never been any room for error", she explained. Her grades all the way through High School and even in college have been stellar. They are a strong Christian family and have strong family values. Everything seems perfect, right? She seems so lucky! She was given every opportunity a child could be given. Her parents always told her she's going to be a doctor for as far back as she can remember. Her parents are even fully funding her med school! She doesn't even have to apply for student loans! So, what's the problem? What could her dilemma possibly be?
Her stress is that she is not living the life that she wants to live. She is living the life that her parents want her to live. She doesn't want to be a doctor. She wants to study art. She wants a career in art. Her dream is to own her own art gallery some day and show her paintings. She showed me a picture she painted of what her vision of Daniel in the Lions Den looks like and WOW! She's an AMAZING artist!! She truly has a God-given talent. She wants to major in art, take as many art classes as she can and even volunteer at art museums. She said she truly believes God is calling her to study art, mentioning that art makes her feel alive. She is at peace when she's painting. She described painting as "her heaven on earth".
She has talked about her love for art to both of her parents. Her parents fully support her passion of art---AS A HOBBY. They insist that art won't pay the bills and the prominence of being a physician earns you respect from society, where an artist (they say) does not. Therefor it was decided by them that art is not an option for her. She will go to med school and they even mentioned that she will thank them later when she realizes that art is just a hobby and not a calling.
Sadly, this is not the first time I've heard this. Some college students are so stressed because they too are living their parents dream for them, and not their own.
For some, if they aren't playing their parents favorite sport, getting perfect grades or pursuing a prominent career, the pressure is tremendous that they will disappoint or embarrass the family.
Do I agree with her parents? No. However, can't say that I don't understand their concern, because I do. All parents want their children to be successful. There is nothing wrong with that. For me, I've always wanted my boys to be better than me. To do better than me. But most importantly, I want them to be happy. I want them to step into the calling that God has for them and I never want to stand in the way of that. Both of my children have incredible talents and strengths that are God-given. I have guided them to the best of my ability, but how God grows their gifts is between them and God. I will not stand in the way of that. I am very proud of both of them!
I can close my eyes right now and think back to the days each one was born.
I remember the moment my eyes locked with theirs and the feeling of holding each one of God's greatest gifts to me for the first time. Sure, as parents you envision your child's future as you hold them. As you rock them to sleep. What preschool will they attend? What grade school? Will they play soccer, baseball, football, or basketball? Will our daughter sing, dance or be a part of the gymnastics team? They will certainly do good in school, take piano, guitar or violin lessons, maybe become fluent in another language! And the college years! Yes the college years! They will attend our Alma Mater or at the very least, a well known university. Some are born into a family of doctors, lawyers, or real estate tycoons. So of course they will graduate from college to be mommy or daddy's next protégé. Then fast forward to today. Are some of you parents out there struggling with the fact that your child hasn't received all A's since first grade? Or your rising senior just told you she wants to take a gap in school to find herself? How about if your daughter wants to study nursing instead of the path you've chose for her? What if they want to be a chef instead of a lawyer? What if they want to open their own dress shop instead of taking over the family business?
Parents, your vision and expectation may be sabotaging your relationship with your child. Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't push our kids to be better or to do better.
We should absolutely support and encourage them to do the best they can. But we should draw a line, particularly once our kids reach the college years, where they are fully capable of making their own decisions and choosing their own path. You will still be there for guidance if they need advice or help. But this is where they will really grow their wings and shine. It's their foundation for life.
As parents we struggle when we become stuck in the mental cloud of expectations for our kids that have no room for imperfection. Sometimes, this struggle is amplified when we define our children by who we want them to be versus who they really are.
What I can see from some of these parents, is that they suffer the most when they want to pursue a life for their children that does not belong to them. Working at a University, and being so close to so many students, I see time and time again that when parental expectations are not met, pain hurts the parent's pride and blame gets placed on their child for not living up to their expectations...(even when the expectation is unreasonable). I see often that what some parents want for their child come from what they are used to which is their family when they were growing up, their own personalities and their own unfulfilled dreams.
From her point of view, she is stressing about keeping up her grades to please her parents. She is going into the medical field to please her parents. She said if she doesn't study medicine, she will crush her parents and they may even sever their relationship with her. Her parents expectations of her have caused strain on their once-loving relationship with her and they blame her for that. They say it's a "phase" she's going through and want to know "who she's hanging around with and who's putting thoughts in her head that she could possibly be a good enough artist to own an art gallery". Naturally, this breaks her heart. The two people in the world that she wants to please the most is her parents. All she wants to hear is how proud they are of her for following HER passion. Not theirs.
"Sure, I get praise when I do good in my medical classes, but anything outside of that is not open for discussion", she stated with a heavy heart.
Here's the issue many parents need to know, whether you realize your pushing your kids too much or perhaps you don't.
FACT: Unrealistic expectations are the thieves of happiness. Put your pride aside and love your child as they are! Love your kids for the gifts and talents that God has placed in their heart, and not for the skills you've forced on them. When we as parents remain stuck in our unrealistic expectations, we indirectly tell our children there is little acceptance for disappointment. While not meaning to, our plans for them can rob them of joy during their childhood, teenage and/or college years and make them more susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression. I don't know if you've seen the statistics parents, but depression among college students is rampant! In fact, it is written that depression is the most common health problem for college students, according to the National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC). Consequently, we show our children that we only see their imperfections and shortcomings. 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, disappointment, or rejection. Children, above all else, want to be accepted, heard, and praised 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 genuinely 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. You will realize that you will be SO PROUD of their hard work while having a front row seat, seeing them pursue their dream and using the gifts instilled in them by God.
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 very definition of having true faith.
Replacing demands with understanding,