When I was 16 years old my mother said to me “I hope you have a little girl, just like you” That was 18 years ago and although I have never forgotten even the tone in which she said that to me, I knew then it was her curse. I was a very difficult teenager. I was an angry mess. The whole world was cold, mean and unyielding in its life lessons for me. Some of my issues were brought on by my mother’s choices during that trying time and some of it was normal behavior for a teenager going through the craziest time in development. Today, I write this article as a mother of two girls. I am living out the curse my mother bestowed on me 18 years ago. But, I have some insight, some clarity and some wisdom that only experience can teach you. In my opinion it all boils down to one very powerful concept, expectations.

Expectations of your children can be many things. They can be emotional, logical and traditional. Whatever they are, they need to be defined clearly and then they need to be reassessed and defined again as the children go through new developmental stages. I have found in my own experience that I was either holding onto expectations that were way behind where my children were, or too far ahead. Having two children only 3 years apart changed the whole strategy and played havoc on my ability to negotiate the gray area of expectations. I was expecting too little from my little one and too much from my older one. All mistakes that are considered normal but need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Expectations that aren’t ‘in check’ can be detrimental to a child’s self esteem as well as defer critical developmental stages. For example, just because my first child became the ‘older’ child a whole new set of expectations of her began. I wasn’t even aware of these new expectations until I started hearing myself say things like “you should know better” to a 3 year old. The truth is that a 3 year old should NOT know better under just about any circumstance, never mind know better than to get mad when her little sister inadvertently takes her toy. There were many of these examples in my house where I automatically expected my older child to know better about a ton of things, even though she was just a child herself.

Another example of expectations being out of touch is when you constantly make excuses for the younger child using the rationale “he/she didn’t know better, he/she is still a child” while that maybe true, make sure that you are following with the growth pattern of your child and/or the appropriate developmental stage of your child. An 8 year old should already know that stealing from any one is completely unacceptable at that stage so making an excuse for that behavior for an 8 year old can inhibit emotional growth. Not holding a child to reasonable expectations for their age and developmental stage is just as harmful as having expectations that are too high. Children need to feel and see consequences for their actions. It teaches them experience. If you deny them of that, they will continually make the same mistake over and over and always expect that you will get them out of trouble. It is a tough line to negotiate but a critical one to master so that their emotional growth is on target.

A very important factor to consider when evaluating and forming expectations of a child is to focus on the character traits that you think are important to help your child grow to be who THEY want to be. In other words, your expectations of who you want them to be should be irrelevant. Focus on the qualities that will help propel them into their own destiny and help them in their lives. I spend a lot of time re-iterating to my 12 year old that I want her to be what ever she wants to be when she grows up. I want her to define success on her own terms but in order to get where she wants to go she needs to learn a few VERY IMPORTANT character traits. In our house these character traits are, truth, sincerity, hard work, perseverance, accountability, responsibility and kindness to others. I bestow these on my children in two very significant ways. I say what I do, and do what I say. It is my job to set the example, PERIOD. I have all these traits as they were passed down to me as I was growing up. Secondly, I strongly believe in repetition. I have to repeat the importance of each of these traits and explain how they will help her on her way through life. I have to do this many times, many different ways and through many different developmental stages. As a matter of fact, I learn something new about her each time I have to have one of those important discussions with my daughter.

Believe it or not, children are eager to please the loved ones in their life. They want to rise to your expectations. They want to be happy and succeed; they just need to know how. It is up to us (the grownups in their lives) to get it right so they have a chance at meeting our expectations. This is an incredibly challenging journey but also one that is among the most rewarding that parenthood has to offer.

Author's Bio: 

Sarah was born in Boston, MA, raised in New York City and graduated from the University of Connecticut with two degrees. She obtained her degrees in Communications and Psychology. Through her own personal tragedies and struggles Sarah married young and had two beautiful girls. Even though her marriage failed, her devotion to her graduate education and her girls was unsurpassed. With her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) in analyzing foreign markets, and a new career opportunity in MD, she moved to MD where she met and fell in love with Enrique. Today, Sarah lives in Maryland with her husband and their children, researching, writing and publishing articles and books.