Guest Blogger: Lisa Stroyan of Empathic Parenting

We hear a lot about having expectations for our children – not just long term aspirations or dreams, but expectations that they will be kind and responsible; that they will pick up their toys and sit quietly at the dinner table.

Yet, somehow I always get stuck on the word “expectations”. Someone asked me what my problem with the word “expectations” is, and I wasn’t quite sure myself. I just had a niggling disconnect that I couldn’t identify whenever I heard it used, kind of like when you are searching for a word and everyone gives you one that is close, but just not quite what you are looking for; almost as if the energy around the word felt wrong to me. So, I looked it up.

Main Entry: expectation
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: anticipation
Synonyms: apprehension, assumption, assurance, belief, calculation, chance, confidence, conjecture, design, expectancy, fear, forecast, hope, intention, likelihood, looking forward, motive, notion, outlook, possibility, prediction, presumption, probability, promise, prospect, reliance, supposition, surmise, suspense, trust, view


Several of these definitions have connotations which don’t feel right to me in the context of parenting, and they are the ones that make the word bother me – apprehension, assumption, presumption, and fear. Yet these are exactly where I often see myself and other parents go when we hold expectations of children.

When the child doesn’t meet our expectations – doesn’t cooperate with toy cleanup efforts or doesn’t sit quietly at dinner (or worse, plays with food or runs around yelling like a banshee), we sometimes assume there is something wrong with them or with us as parents. Then the fear sets in, and often our expectations turn into doubts and resentments rather than something that empowers our children to reach for their best. To be effective, expectations have to be in the present, not in the past or future.

Furthermore, expectations tend to be interpreted as static, whereas I see them as fluid and situational. Which expectations a child will be able to meet depend on the child’s age, state of mind and health, etc.

Lastly, often expectations have a societal meaning that carries an assumption of “right and wrong” rather than what is effective for a given family. There are even expectations placed on the parent’s expectations.

However, the positives are in this definition too – belief, confidence, hope, intention, and trust. How can we combine these with a strong view of what we want from children? Aspirations comes close for me, but seem too far in the future.

I also found quite a few quotes about expectation:

Anger always comes from frustrated expectations” – Elliott Larson

Keep high aspirations, moderate expectations, and small needsWilliam Howard Stein

We love to expect, and when expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting.Samuel Johnson

High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” – Charles F. Kettering

It is generally known, that he who expects much will be often disappointed; yet disappointment seldom cures us of expectation, or has any effect other than that of producing a moral sentence or peevish exclamationSamuel Johnson

The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance, and so relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty.Seneca (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)

Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectationCharlotte Bronte

Hope is a desire with an expectation of accomplishment.” – Unknown

And then of course, my long-time and oft-quoted favorite:

“Expectations are resentments under construction.”

In short, expectations can generate fear, doubt, and guilt if they are incorrectly used (like any other parenting concept, I suppose). Personally, I would rather choose something that empowers both myself and my child.

What I am looking for is a word that conveys a concept that Wayne Dyer talks about a lot (perhaps he uses a word that I’ve not ‘caught’ yet?), where one can simultaneously hold a view and expectation of what is wanted,  while also trusting and believing that it is on it’s way and that the current moment is exactly as it is supposed to be.  (If anyone comes up with such a word, please let me know!)

Until then, I’ll continue to have expectations, but I’m going to make sure they are helpful ones. There are enough “should’s” in life without having to heap on some more.

[ This is a repost of an entry from my Empathic Parenting Blog.  Many thanks to Diane for offering to let me share it here.  If you have comments, I would love to hear them on either blog! ]

Lisa Stroyan, Empathic Parenting

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