Family works

Speaking on parental expectations

Rob Coombs ID. Min. Ph.D.
Posted 3/19/17

A friend loves to tell the story of his best friend through high school and college. During high school they spent their summers together working as lifeguards at a local pool. His friend loved …

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Family works

Speaking on parental expectations


A friend loves to tell the story of his best friend through high school and college. During high school they spent their summers together working as lifeguards at a local pool. His friend loved everything about the job, so much so that he continued to work as a lifeguard in college, partly to pay the bills, but mostly because he really enjoyed the work.

Although he was good at academics, he found himself more and more drawn to dreams of working as a full-time life guard on a California beach. He finally told his parents, and his dad threw a fit.

“Not my son! You are going to be a doctor! All my life I have wished I could have been a doctor. I just never had the opportunity. But you do! And you are going to do what I never had a chance to do.”

The son pleaded, “But I’m not you. I don’t like medicine. I don’t want any part of the life of a doctor.”

His father would not hear another word. “Do your studies. One day you will be a doctor.”

Confused, but obedient, the son continued his studies. He also continued to work as a lifeguard. He graduated from college with honors and was accepted into medical school. Four years later, on commencement day, the son proceeded through the line, received his medical school diploma, walked up to his dad and smiled.

“Dad,” his son calmly and warmly stated, “Here, this diploma is for you. I never wanted it.” He then turned and walked away. He left that day and traveled to California, where he spent the rest of his days working as a lifeguard, never practicing medicine a day in his life.

Parents inflict untold and unnecessary harm upon their children by attempting to force them to meet their expectations. It is as if the child is a piece of property given to them to fulfil their dreams and their desires. This is not only unfair to the child, but often destroys the relationship between parent and child. Sadly, living in this environment forces children into one of two unhealthy directions — compliance or rebellion.

The compliant child seeks to measure up to his parents’ expectations. This is often a frustrating and painful experience. The child constantly feels pressured to perform and, yet, regardless of her performance, nothing ever is good enough. With each accomplishment the bar is raised, leaving the child feeling hopelessly inadequate.

As one college student vented, “It seems like I can never please my parents. I keep trying and trying, but nothing is good enough! This is killing me.”

She spoke such truth. Such pressures do “kill” the child, and it is often a slow and painful death.

The rebellious child has little desire to meet his parents’ expectations. Perhaps he has seen his sister try, and recognizes the futility of even attempting to do so.

He reacts by intentionally seeking to be his parents’ worst nightmare. Whatever they want, he doesn’t. Sadly, the rebellious child may make many poor decisions in reaction to his parents’ control, and suffer tragic consequences as a result of those choices.

What’s a parent to do? The answer is simple, but certainly not easy. Allow your children to recognize and pursue their own dreams and desires.

If you have successfully followed your own dreams and desires, then your children are likely to do the same. If you haven’t, give them a chance.


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