Life’s Little Things

Our expectations can be a burden for our children

There have been many times in my life that I have needed my children to do something to suit my needs and they have obliged beautifully. Not surprisingly, there have been considerably more occasions where inconveniently and somewhat mortifyingly they have not.

I recall taking my son to a specialist for a childhood ailment and watching in horror as he and his brother ran amok despite everything I said or did. I had lost control over the situation; they sensed my vulnerability and exploited it ruthlessly. When my daughter graduated from Montessori school our video footage captured the anguish of a frustrated mother as she cajoled, bullied and coerced her four year old son into performing. Overwhelmed and terrorised by his mother’s incessant pleadings to perform for grandma and grandpa, the poor child battened down the hatches and retreated to the keep until the onslaught was over. No satisfaction was had that day.

Our expectations for our children not only weigh us down they can be an intolerable burden for our children to bear, constraining them to be not who they are but who we imagine them to be. They become experts at reading our duplicitous motives and registering our badly hidden disappointment when they fall short of standards we may not even realise we are holding them to.

If we are honest we can often be more concerned about how their achievements and behaviour reflect upon us rather than what is best for the child themselves. I know one mother who refused to talk to her four year old daughter for a full day when the little one refused to don a pretty dress and walk up the church aisle strewing rose petals on her aunt’s wedding day.


It is all too easy to employ bully tactics to get what we want from our children; bowing to the expectations of others in spite of our children’s express refusal. How often do we think of our children in these situations? It can be difficult to separate ourselves from our children, to discriminate between our selfish motives and their best interests. The challenge of course is to try to move in their best interests and put the onlookers where they should be, out of the picture completely.

We have had many excruciating experiences watching our children fumble on the football pitch, fall on their face at sports day or throw spectacular tantrums in shopping centres, but these incidents pass and are forgotten. The consequences of how we as parents deal with these challenges are of greater importance. We have an opportunity to show our children how to manage their own emotions by modelling how we manage ours. We have the chance to value their perspective and teach them that whatever expectations others may have, how they themselves feel and what they ultimately want for themselves has value too.

This is the core of how any of us respond to peer-pressure. Encouraging our children to be respectful, cooperative and self-regulating also means that however difficult it makes parenting them we must accept their right to be challenging, belligerent and downright uncooperative. 

I am certain there will be many more of these challenging moments when I will want to disown my children; dare I mention the time my son told our neighbour that he didn’t think the name she had chosen for her new baby was a very good one! As parents we recognise that we are fallible creatures doing the best we can at any given moment. We must bear in mind that however unpalatable or humiliating, our children are doing the best they can too.