On Parenting: Have Expectations
Part 8 of 11 on Parenting Principles
After my parents divorce I will never forget something that my mom told us over and over: You will not be a statistic. She never let us use the fact that our parents were divorced as an excuse to do poorly in school or misbehave. My dad would often talk to us about how people knew our last name and that what we did reflected on the family business. My parents had expectations for my brothers and I. Amy's (my wife) parents had similar expectations for her and her sisters. There was an expectation of hard work, commitment, and the pursuit of excellence.
Some people think that “expectation” is a dirty word. Sometimes “expectation” becomes an opportunity for legalism and judgment. That is a possible threat. Often when I talk about expectations people immediately jump to an image of a parent living vicariously through their children in some activity. Do we need to guard against that in our setting of expectations? Absolutely. When we make expectations about us as opposed to helping the children entrusted to us, then that is seriously problematic. How do we guard against that? I think that we do so by setting expectations at a 100,000 foot level. This means that we avoid particulars in our setting of expectations and focus on principles. There's that word again, principle. Principles function to provide frameworks with flexibility. This means that there is room for grace, mercy, and patience. An example of overly specific expectations would be: I want my kid to be a professional baseball player. If we make that an expectation then we will experience great frustration and our child will most likely experience failure. Yes, that sets a high bar, but by being overly specific it doesn't allow for grace and for the child to become who they were created to be.
Healthy and good expectations are broad and big picture. By being big picture, expectations allow for each child to uniquely fulfill their personal calling as a human. What we are consistently learning as parents is that whatever expectations we set for the children in our care they tend to meet. Whatever the bar is set at they tend to rise to it. Therefore, we must find and set expectations that will be challenging and hold them to a high standard but be general enough that they can uniquely rise up to them.
Even though I've, mostly, been successful at avoiding getting specific in this series and telling you what we do, this time I'm going share with you some of the expectations that we have for Ethan and Libby. I'm doing this because it's easier to give examples of this than to try to give you some sort of nebulous description. In doing so, I want to remind you, take this with a grain of salt, these are things that Amy and I have chosen to embrace in our family, our setting, our circumstance, and our personal context. These are not meant to be a recipe for everyone to embrace.
One of the earliest expectations that we set is that Ethan and Libby would be friends. As all kids do they would get snippy with one another and argue. Ethan would bug Libby and she would get mad and vice versa. When those things happened we would intentionally help them figure out how to reconcile and we would remind them that we have the expectation of them being one another's best friend. We simply expected it. There was no debate or conversation. This required us as parents to engage as “relationship counselors” on a regular basis during various seasons of life. Often, we would talk about how there is team kid and team parent. It has become a fun way to remind them they are on the same team and that they need one another. Now that they are about to move into adulthood, it appears that they are meeting that expectation. We love watching their relationship and seeing how they have one another's backs completely. They get mad at one another and drive each other a little crazy, yet there is nobody they love more.
Another expectation that we have is that they will give 100% effort at school. We don't worry about grades. Those will take care of themselves. What we care about is the effort. Some children are naturally gifted with the ability to succeed in school and others are not. For some, 100% effort means that they will get grades that are just good enough to graduate. For others 100% effort means that they will be placing themselves in more and more challenging environments because they can get grades with 25% effort. Do you see how a principle driven approach to expectation setting offers flexibility and room for grace?
One last example of an expectation that we have for Ethan and Libby is that they will be kind. This expectation has opened up many conversations with the kids about all kinds of things. We are able to talk about justice and loving well. It provides a context for us to challenge them to embrace those on the fringes. Kindness is broad enough that there are many avenues to enter into conversations and challenge them to continue to grow as people. Not only that, but it provides a structure for the kids to challenge us as parents too. Kindness is a clear means by which we can all sharpen one another and be vulnerable with one another.
Do not be afraid of setting expectations! They provide the paths by which we get to help children grow. The best part of having expectations? Opportunities to celebrate and affirm children's success.