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Great Expectations

Posted on November 12, 2014

Creating a positive environment for your child in which they can develop and grow is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their offspring. One of the biggest challenges to this, however, may lie in a parent’s own expectations for their children. Whether you’re an outgoing parent who has a shy or introverted child, or an athletic parent who has an artistically inclined teen who steers clear of sport, this issue of being present for who your child actually is creates the most important starting point for all parents.

Being open to your child’s experience allows you to support them to live as their authentic self by keeping trust alive, connections strong, and communication between parent and child wide open. This doesn’t mean becoming a permissive parent where anything goes, but rather an authoritative parent where structure is apparent but connection and communication are equally valued. This means being open to things occurring in your child’s world that are beyond what your expectations for them are. Naturally, we all have expectations. This is just the way the brain works – an anticipation machine, setting up from prior experiences a neurological filter that enables us to make sense of the world, and then get ready for what is likely to happen next. Expectations empower us in this way and aid in our survival. But the downside is that they can make it difficult for us to clearly see what is in front of us, or even inside of us.

Indeed, when we have fixed expectations, we cannot see clearly. Our prior learning (what society, our family, and our own individual experiences have taught us) can create perceptual filters that skew our view of present experience through a lens that biases what we see in the moment. Expectations become fixed and rigid, and mental “shoulds” distort what we are open to seeing and expecting. Even if we think we don’t have these expectations, our facial expressions and tone of voice may reveal disappointment and disapproval when unexpected developments occur within our children. As parents, we therefore need to be very conscious of the depths of our responses so that we don’t unwittingly create an environment in which they feel judged, condemned or even invisible. All of these things can inhibit open communication from your child and threaten trust in the relationship.

How accepting a parent is of their child’s individual characteristics provides them with the foundation they need to thrive, because being seen and loved for who you are makes you feel good about yourself and helps to build a resilient mind. Learning to intentionally let go of expectations, then, is a fundamental parenting skill, because it enables you to become more mindfully aware of what is happening, rather than embracing a rigid model of what “should” be happening.  And it is this receptive perceptual stance that facilitates a connected and trusting relationship with your child by allowing you to see them for who they truly are.

So, if you are a parent who struggles to be open and receptive to your child’s unexpected developments, or your teen’s curiosity in some strange new fad, the team of professional counsellors in Brisbane at Creating Connection can help you to make sense of your own feelings and learn how to work with them effectively in your role as a parent. We offer individual, couple and family therapy where appropriate, so please contact the office today by phoning 1300 484 711 or email to see how we can help.

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“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”

- Anais Nin

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