Great Expectations Are Not Always So Great!

by Holly Cox - Date: 2008-10-09 - Word Count: 525 Share This!

Ryan, my first-born son, started reading when he was three. At four, he attended a Montessori School, and before long he was pasting continents on a map and naming all of them. My husband and I were so very proud of him, and we often asked him to demonstrate his talents in front of interested (and not-so-interested) friends and relatives. Amazed and overjoyed that our son could name all of the continents, we failed to pause and realize that at that age he didn't really understand the concept of a neighborhood, town, city, or country, let alone a continent. So while his ability to dazzle us with his intelligence had great entertainment value, it really was little more than a parlor trick.

We like to brag about my daughter's dog, Jolie, and demonstrate her talents to others as well. When asked "How does a bad girl make her money?" she rolls over on her back with little understanding of what we are really talking about. It gets a lot of laughs, though.

In contrast to Jolie, our son Ryan is a very intelligent individual and has many other phenomenal abilities and talents that represent higher level thinking skills. However, there were many times in his life that his intelligence felt like an albatross around his neck. In order to maintain the good opinion and high expectations of others, Ryan always felt like he had to perpetually perform at a superior level. When he didn't, he heard the often repeated refrain, "You could do better if you wanted to." After all, we envisioned our little three-year old as the next Doogie Howser, M.D. and felt it was our job to keep him on the "success" track.

I guess you could say we lost sight of the fact that it was our dream for him, not necessarily his own dream for himself - and therein lies the problem. When we have very high expectations for our children, they start believing they have to continually achieve them in order to make us happy. If they feel this is an impossible task, they can either suffer from anxiety-driven perfectionism or give up entirely and head in the opposite direction. For awhile, Ryan's main goal was to keep us off his back. His first response to less-than-perfect grades, like many of the underachieving students I've met, was "I'm in deep trouble now." His grades had no personal meaning for him. They were only a means to an end. His main concern was our reaction to them.

Were we terrible parents? No, I don't believe we were. We just wanted our son to have the sun, the moon, and the stars - even if he did not necessarily want those things for himself. Hoping to encourage Ryan in developing his wonderful gifts and talents, we sent a message we did not intend to send. After many ups and downs along the way, we were eventually able to set our own expectations aside and give him the gift of true acceptance. Interestingly enough, that is when he set his own standards for himself and achieved them beyond his and our wildest dreams.

Copyright 2008 by Holly Cox, L.C.P.C., C.D.C.(r)

Related Tags: anxiety, perfectionism, very high expectations for our children, underachieving students

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