Have your kids ever thrown back statements like, “You expect me to be perfect all the time!” or “It’s impossible to do anything right with all your rules!” when you hold them accountable to expectations?
This has become a hot topic for my family. So much that I personally found the need to take a step back to evaluate what expectations I have for my children. Leading me to decide whether or not I’m the unrealistic one.
I never want to assume I have it right as the parent. I am just as capable of error, pride, stubbornness and sin as anyone. I had to evaluate my feelings and emotions versus that which my children were expressing.
When expectations are set unreasonably high, my kids feel constantly inadequate and like a failure. When set too low – or worse – not set at all, it leads to laziness, entitlement, and apathy.
As the parent, when expectations are too high (whether I consciously established them or not) I feel disappointment and frustration when my children when my kids fall short. I get snappy and demand to know why they fell short. These are not my greatest parenting moments.
So where is the balance?
I want my kids to have expectations so they do not become complacent but at the same time I want them to understand that it isn’t “perfection” I require or ask of them.
These are real conversations happening right now over tear stained faces, bruised emotions, and honest words. It all revolves around one thing, their belief that we expect too much. So we are digging into this and recognizing that each of our emotions are real and worthy to be recognized, not swept under the rug.
Now, I have a unique family in a unique situation so I’ve tended to believe this is why expectations aren’t fully and clearly understood and respected in our home. My kids weren’t raised from birth with these expectations. They have not grown up meeting expectations and adapting to new expectations fluidly as they’ve matured. Frankly, the mere concept of expectations is new to some of my kids.
So I asked this question to many (including my kids): What can I expect from my children without crippling them with self-doubt and paralysis?
Talking with other parents I know these questions are not unique to my adoptive home – it’s everywhere. Expectations are a battle with most kids. And I daresay lack of expectations is becoming an epidemic in our society because less and less people are taking the time to answer the hard questions and fight the good fight.
After a little research and a lot of prayer, I’ve determined these 6 expectations encompass healthy boundaries, integrity, growing responsibility, and Kingdom honor. Other expectations may come and go but these are key and will be held as standard in our home:
1. Basic expectations, they are good for you and absolutely reasonable.
There is no reason to realistically expect our children to get all A’s and B’s, to make their beds everyday (especially since we don’t), to clean without being asked, to get along at all times with their siblings, or even to always make the right choice. They are kids! There is beauty and value in those type of experiences and struggles that I don’t want them to miss. We have grace for all this and believe it will not be detrimental to their developing character.
Conversely, there are expectations we believe are realistic and essential to their developing character: to not get zeros or incompletes from not turning in or attempting assignments; to have a device/phone means it will have restrictions; and to do the following every day without complaining or arguing: take a shower, brush their teeth, eat dinner, do their daily chores, schoolwork, and go to bed. This is so bare minimum for raising a competent adult.
2. I do not expect them to be happy all of the time.
I’m certainly not in a good mood every minute, why should they be? It’s okay if they are upset, sad, lonely, bored, or frustrated. I want them to process those feelings and learn to cope with them. We will not discredit nor manipulate what someone feels. Even if they are mad at me – I am okay with not being liked for their greater good. I will not bend on convictions and morals to keep my children happy.
It must also be understood that it is not my job to keep them happy. I cannot and will not attempt to make their childhood magical and entertained. I desire them to feel the natural pang of boredom that stimulates and sparks creativity and curiosity.
3. I cannot expect them to be grateful for everything.
This is an especially sensitive point for my adopted children. While outsiders are quick to tell my kids how lucky they are and how grateful they should be, I know for a fact that is not how my children feel. And I’m okay they don’t feel grateful – they have suffered loss and they are too young to understand what they have gained to be grateful for it.
But even in the mundane details of the every day, I cannot expect them to be grateful. I will, however, always push them to have a grateful heart and will demonstrate how that looks, sounds, and feels like for them. Most importantly, I fully recognize their inability to be thankful for what I do. They have no earthly clue how hard it is to listen to seven kids at once while making dinner and processing my own day and stresses on top of theirs. I do not expect them to understand, validate, or esteem me for what I do.
4. I absolutely expect kindness and respect.
Not just to me personally, but to every person they encounter. Being kind and respectful is both biblical and practical. These are the finest traits a human can have; they will never return void or come back to you in vain. Both the kindness and respect values must be learned in the home while growing up.
Therefore, I will correct this behavior every time. I don’t expect perfection (even I am not always kind when I should be) but as clearly stated expectation there will be accountability for how these values are demonstrated.
5. You can expect me to follow God’s word.
I will absolutely, to the best that I know how, parent according to the Word of God. This means my kids may think I am impractical, old-fashioned, out-of-touch, and strict – and I am okay with that. Even though I battle with those labels, I have to be okay with them. Sometimes I would rather give in the ways of the this world but I am certain the Word of God never ever returns void. I cling to the promise in Proverbs 22 that if you train a child in the way they should go when they are old they will not depart from it. Therefore, my kids can expect this as a standard for our home. Discussions will always turn to the Bible and Jesus will be our constant role model. Examples of these expectations are the commands of Jesus: serving others, fleeing from sexual immorality (as seen in my children’s phone restrictions), and resisting the love of money and possessions.
6. We all expect hard work
I expect my kids to do their school work, work hard, and try their very best. I expect them to work hard in their sporting activities and in the minimal chores they do every week. I expect them to work to become a better person, to help others, and at trying new things. Similarly, my kids expect me to work hard by making meals, helping with homework, chauffeuring them around, fixing their hair, arranging their play-dates, planning their birthday parties, shopping for clothes, and as a Pharmacist, Writer, and Speaker so we have money to spend. So it’s mutual: everyone works hard, no one gets a free pass. Because success looks a whole lot like hard work – not perfection – just hard work.
This is what we live and parent by. It is clearly defined and understandable for everyone – even us! We cannot shift our expectations to fit a situation, we hold ourselves to these expectations as much as we hold our kids to them.
Without expectations we will all flounder and grasp in the dark for what we think could be the right way or choice.
Expectations are crucial. Do not let your children convince you otherwise. Especially when they answer this question, “Can you explain to Dad and I how we are expecting too much?” with:
“You expect me to do homework and be kind! I can’t possibly do it all!”
Yes, as a matter of fact, you can do both. And that expectation will make you a much better person.
I do believe it is possible to expect TOO MUCH from our children. However, I believe the argument “you expect too much” is more often rooted in not knowing and understanding the expectations placed on them.
Without the knowledge and understanding of parental expectations, children process perfection as the only acceptable standard.
So if you are hearing the “you expect too much” complaint, I urge you to challenge yourself similarly and devise an actual list of expectations for you and your children.
This works incredibly well for marriages too, I might add. Ten years ago Ryan and I clearly defined a list of expectations (who would take the trash out, get the oil changed, cook dinner, clean toilets, etc) and we hold to these still today. It is never a battle or source of contention between us.
And that is my exact hope for my children and I: clearly defined expectations; never a source of contention.
(I refuse to laugh at that last statement – it may seem impossible but I am a hopeful person.)
Do you agree?
What are some of your expectations?
Have you tried anything that has worked better?