The Myth of High Expectations

Since my last post about instilling the love of reading, something has been rattling around in my brain regarding having high expectations for our kids.  I kept squashing down the doubts, thinking, “No, that can’t be right. High expectations help kids live up to higher standards.”  But, the doubts kept coming. Then, in catching up on my blog reading, I got to this post by Adversarian in which she off-handedly mentions high expectations as something engendered by the school system, and something clicked.

We have been programmed to believe that if we have low expectations for kids, they won’t amount to anything. And if we expect much of them, they will excel. This is, I believe, true. In a sense.  If by “excel” you mean that they will play the school game well, will study hard, do as their told, etc., your best strategy is to expect this of your kids. In other words, our expectations do have a lot of power over our children. We just have been abusing that power and doing our kids a huge disadvantage.

Most parents’ expectations include high grades, rule obedience, a college degree, and a good paying job. We are disappointed in our children if they don’t live up to these expectations, and we never question the validity of expecting such things. But, these “high” expectations actually hamper our kids’ ability to truly excel.  They are handicapped by these heavy burdens, and may not find their true passions for years, if ever. As an example, my hubby attended 5 years of school and pursued engineering for years after graduating, because that was a “good job” and he felt as though his family expected him to be an engineer. It wasn’t until he was 28 that he realized he hated that path and wanted to go into video games. He was so frustrated at all of the time he had wasted pursuing a career that he never actually wanted. And, his story is far from unique.

So, I have one expectation for my son (and future children). That is that he follow his passion.  I don’t care if that passion is trash collecting, hair dressing, movie making, or even engineering.  But, more importantly, I have a ‘high’ expectation of myself. And that is to allow him the freedom to explore and learn organically. I still find myself thinking, “I hope he goes to college” or “Maybe he’ll be a writer/actor/athlete/scholar.”  I will be hugely disappointed in myself if my son grows up believing that I want a particular career or achievement for him.  His only concern should be finding what excites him – expectations be damned.

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One Comment on "The Myth of High Expectations"

  1. Susan Gaissert
    06/04/2010 at 12:20 pm Permalink

    This is a wonderful post. I wholeheartedly agree with you. In my school days, I always met the high expectations of my parents and teachers, but I know that I molded myself toward my strengths in order to do that. I often wonder who I might have been if I had leaned toward my weaknesses. I want my daughter to be free to lean whichever way seems right to her.

    Please keep submitting to the Carnival of Unschooled Life.

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