Parental expectations, a burden to children
From the moment a couple find out they are expecting a child, they start imagining how life would be like. Having a boy may bring fantasies of playing football in the backyard, taking him to school and guiding him through his career and relationship journey. A girl may lead one to fantasise about encouraging her to develop into a strong and independent woman.
The truth is all these are expectations. One advantage of expectations according to psychologists is that they communicate to your children that what they do is important to you as a parent, what they do matters—a lot! Parent’s expectations encourage children’s development. They further help children forge a path, avoiding the potential pitfalls of growing up. They lessen the number of overwhelming choices that confront their young minds.
However, at times parental expectations can be harmful. They can become a burden on the children’s shoulders and parents’ dreams, an obligation. Stories are rife of children who complete undergraduate degrees, then take the certificate to their parents, before going back to school to pursue a degree of their choice.
What makes parents want to have a first row seat in their children’s lives?
Alice Wangeci believes that the fact that parents start solving their children’s problem from the first poop means that children will always rely on them as problem-solvers.
However, she adds that as a parent she would never want to put so much pressure on her children by trying to fix who they are in order to suit who she has always expected her children to be.
“Just like parents, children need boundaries respected too and putting pressure on my child to meet my expectations means trying to change who they are, which isn’t right,” she says.
Experts say a parents role in their child’s life is to simply love and protect them as they allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions without having to come in their way.
According to Ken Munyua, a psychologist, parents can sometimes come in the way of their children by imposing their own expectations and desires on them, rather than allowing their children to pursue their own interests and passions.
While they intend to make their children doctors, scientists, and engineers they unknowingly kill their child’s innocence and set them up for a lifetime of rat race, showing complete disregard for their aspirations and happiness.
“This can create a situation where children feel pressured to conform to their parents’ expectations, rather than being able to freely explore and discover their own identities and goals,” he says.
He adds that one reason parents may do this is because they believe that they know what is best for their children and want to ensure that their children have a successful and fulfilling life.
However, he says that this approach can be counterproductive, as it can stifle children’s individuality and creativity, and prevent them from developing the skills and self-confidence necessary to navigate the challenges of life on their own.
“It is important for parents to recognise that their children are unique individuals with their own interests, strengths, and weaknesses. By supporting and encouraging their children to pursue their own paths in life, parents can help them to develop a strong sense of self and a genuine passion for the things they do, which can lead to greater success and happiness in the long run,” he says.
On his part, Dr Stephen Asatsa, Consultant Psychologist Beautiful Mind Consultants explains that parental pressure can have a significant impact on children’s mental health.
“While some degree of pressure can be motivating, excessive and unrealistic expectations can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues,” he says.
The psychologist don says that one of the dangers of putting too much pressure on children’s is that it can affects their mental health. This means that when parents put too much pressure on their children to excel in academics, extracurricular activities, or other areas, it can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress. Children may feel like they are not living up to their parents’ expectations and have a fear of failure.
“Poor self-esteem could be another problem that arises. Constant pressure to perform can lead to low self-esteem and a negative self-image. Children may feel like they are not good enough and develop a sense of inadequacy and this can impact their mental health in the long term,” he says.
Another factor is burnout. When parents push children to excel in multiple areas, children may become overburdened and overwhelmed, leading to burnout. This can manifest as physical and mental exhaustion, detachment, and feelings of hopelessness.
“To prevent the negative effects of parental pressure, it’s essential for parents to strike a balance between encouraging their children to achieve their best and supporting them through challenges unlike forcing them to be an image that they have created for themselves,” he says.
Also, parents should communicate expectations clearly, listen to their children’s concerns and needs, and encourage healthy habits such a self-actualisation in order for them to feel secure in their own thoughts.