Parental expectations: when enough is enough



I t’s a big year in the Button house with our daughter graduating from college and our youngest son graduating from high school in the next few weeks. There are conversations, all of which boil down to a single question: “So, what’s next?”

My children’s answers reflect the fact that they are taking their lives into their own hands.

Kristina hopes to take a break from resume building and work in a resort town for the summer. Jordan has decided to forego college, either for now or forever. He wants to live a life without homework, to have the space and time to figure some things out.

As I’ve asked him questions and listened to his answers, I’ve come to wonder if more young adults need the same kind of freedom to jump off the hamster wheel of expectation and “what’s next” and set healthier timetables for themselves.

In his new book, “Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement,” author Rich Karlgaard wonders this, too. He writes, “Being seen as a potential late bloomer was once a mark of vitality, patience, and pluck. Nowadays, more and more, it’s seen as a defect (there must be a reason you started slowly, after all) and a consolation prize. This is an awful trend, since it diminishes the very things that make us human—our experiences, our resilience, and our lifelong capacity to grow.”

We demand a lot from our kids, asking them, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” the moment they learn to talk. They had career testing and planning built into their educational curriculum long before they had developed the skills, interests or values to know what they might be good at.

Many parents, including myself, hopped on the bandwagon of creating opportunities for our kids whenever we sensed a whiff of interest. We signed them up for AYSO and travel teams, dance classes and summer camps. We stood in the rain and the freezing cold cheering our progenies on without always asking them if they enjoyed what they were doing. In our enthusiasm, we sometimes set their next goals, forgetting to celebrate the milestone of the day or asking them what they wanted out of the experience.

Jordan says it this way: “Kids don’t know how to expect anything of themselves because they have 10 other people expecting things for them. Self expectations just add more stress.”

Couple that with a public education system that puts kids on a conveyor belt toward their futures by emphasizing testing over creativity and imagination and we can realize how the combination has resulted in sucking the joy and curiosity out of learning. As one teacher said of Jordan at our recent teacher-parent conference, “He’s a great kid who has a lot of questions. Unfortunately, he has way more than we have time for.”

Our kids are in the process of becoming and need to do that at their own pace. We can help them in that lifelong journey by celebrating their inherent qualities over their accomplishments. Karlgaard says, “In every aspect of our lives, there are many, equally valid ways to reach a positive outcome. There are always many ways to achieve a goal, gain expertise, or find success.”

In other words, there are many ways to become an incredible human being.

Perhaps what it comes down to is realizing that our kids are not that much different than we were and are: they need a long time to learn and grow. As they figure out “what’s next” in their lives, parents need to extend both grace and space. We need to celebrate who they are and trust they’ve been given enough tools and love to become. It is, after all, a work of a lifetime.

Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *