When Parent’s Impose Their Expectations On Their Kids, It All Goes To Hell.

So, good luck with that.

Photo by Joeyy Lee

Long ago, my wife and I agreed that I’d stay home with my now elementary school-age kids. Yep, when they get home from school, mom or a nanny aren’t there to dish out the cookies and milk. Instead, they get me. I’m at the door wearing cargo shorts, crocs, and a faded, slightly torn, Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Occasionally, to feel like a man, I smoke a cigar.

And in this role, I’ve learned, when it comes to loving kids, it is not about putting your arm around them so they feel better after a long, hard day.

Nor is it the triumph you feel after you’ve willed them to ride a two-wheel bike.

And, it is certainly not when you dupe yourself into believing they’ll say great to see you the moment they get off the bus.

No, love is none of these things. Why? Because a parents’ expectations about what they think will happen don’t match the reality. In other words, mom’s expectations are clay pigeons and her sharpshootin’ kids are holding a loaded rifle ready, willing, and able to fire. And to see your expectations obliterated, that, right there, is hard.

Take when children come home from school. You, as a mom or dad, want to know they’re learning a little more than the day before, so you ask your son, “how was school today?”

Now love tells you that you’re posing a simple question only for the simple reason: you want to connect with him on a deep level.

And in your mind, the dream goes deeper. After he eats said cookies and gives up the goods, you’re certain he can head outside and play with his friends knowing you’re are behind him and him knowing he’s good.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, he says what all children say, “nothing”. That’s correct. According to little Jimmy, nothing happened at school. My daughter has a clever way of putting it, she says, “the ‘uge”.

Now, any wise guardian knows that “nothing” didn’t happen. Something happened, and unless you’re willing to extract his molars one by one, you are left locked out and frustrated because the boy, in a sense, cut the wire that allows for any current of conversation to flow as you hoped. The circuit has been broken, the connection lost.

The kid wants independence and that’s fine. But no parent I know just accepts “nothing”. They don’t put their arm around their child and says, gee, son, sorry nothing happened at school today. Buck up, kiddo, there’s always tomorrow.

No, that’s bullshit. something happened and you’re determined to mine it out of them. This parent-child bond will happen if only to satisfy a yearning curiosity, but quell a hysteric sense of worry. All you want to know is what’s out there circling your third grader’s orbit, especially when he asked you “what’s vaping” just last week.

Is wanting a bond with your kin a crime? No, and no tele-health professional standing in front of their bookcase of self-righteousness should tell you anything else. And if they do well excuuuuuse me if my good intentions become interrogations if only to ensure my kid doesn’t need a daily Xanax to scrap the adverbs.

The truth is when things don’t line up — the loving, innocent idea and the “what is” — the amount of complaining a parent does is nothing shy of dystopian.

See, when expectations are crushed, the byproduct is complaint. You complain and vent to any receiving individual willing to be depressed as you drone on about how your daughter cackles at the dinner table while you implore the tyke to knock it off even if it takes a good whack with the iPad to succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, love says that you are a witness to a moment to remember — a fun family dinner where everyone is being silly and just having a great time. Sure, okay. Except you’re a mother or father who expects civility and decorum. Yes, yelling shut your pie hole or go to bed comes across as authoritarian, but what parent believes dinner is a democratic process? Not one.

The irony here is when it comes to remembering these kinds of unrelenting times from unhinged expectations, no one remembers the bad stuff — the tension, the tolerance required, and the labor pains.

And, if they do remember? These times are labeled as crazy, as if. They say, “Wow, I cannot believe we survived when Kelly used to laugh uncontrollably during dinner, and then dad would scream his head off and whack her with the iPad. Crazy times, right, ha ha ha.”

And the crazy happens from day one.

You want a baby. Before the baby, you think it’ll be nice to feed it while holding it close. Yes, it’ll be fantastic to provide them nourishment every three hours, every day at 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3, 6, and 9. And at 12am and 3am, that’s when you really break out the party hats. The fest goes on for three months.

Funny how a week into waking up in the wee morning hours, when sleep is more valuable than Bitcoin, you begin to bitch with your spouse about how tired you are. No one wants to wake up at 3 am unless it’s to catch a flight to St. Kitts.

Feeding a baby and catching a plane to a place where piña coladas are a morning staple are markedly different things. After providing for a baby, you head back in bed praying your partner will take the 6am feed, not to the white sands of the Caribbean.

Does any of this mean you don’t love your child? That’s ridiculous, of course you do. Complaining, bitching, and moaning about a baby, or an adult baby, is the reality. I’m sorry, but if it isn’t, you’re not human.

And complaining works both ways; you’re not immune. You’re not perfect. People whine about you too.

My kids find me annoying. On a clear crisp sunny day, I push them to go outside and they don’t want to. They’d rather zone out too close to the fifty-five-inch TV while glaring at dancing idiots on Tik Tok who can’t understand why they’re not famous yet. And when I say, come on guys, time to go outside, they move as if they’ve fallen “off the wagon” they were never really on to begin with.

And I don’t get it. The outdoors brings me back to my childhood days playing basketball with neighborhood kids and riding my bike. My kids don’t think that way. They see a bike as nothing more than transportation to school.

Meanwhile, video games have a very different reality. They immerse, really anyone, in an anything-goes kind of world where, if you screw up, you’re resurrected and start again while maintaining your wealth. Christ, you’d think Super Mario was rich Jesus.

Hey, look, I could be wrong. Perhaps children learn more after they send little Italian painters over a cliff and it comes back whole. I don’t know. Maybe they know something I don’t. I mean, compare that to your child falling from a tree and breaking their leg. Won’t they wind up back on the couch playing Nintendo games anyway? So why do it with a snapped tibia. I get that.

But I don’t want them to believe sitting around all day compromises a healthy way of life. Take after your mom on that one.

The fact is dealing with how our expectations fail us is a grind, and no, not the grind you pump out on your peloton. No, with kids, you grind through the worries, the annoyances, all while complaining day after day from the moment they pop from mommy’s belly until the day you kick them out.

But remember, in the end, you find the reality did match your ideal. You only recall the good times, those moments when you were all hanging in the backyard kicking around a soccer ball. You don’t remember bouncing it off your three-year-old’s face and the trip to the emergency room. I mean, you do, but it’s not the first thing that comes to mind except in family court proceedings.

All I can tell you is if you’re planning on having children, remember there are two parts to any innocent action. One is the loving idea of it, the other is the operational reality. If you can ground the former with the latter, you just may find you can hold your baby close while feeding them a bottle, all while on a beach in St. Kitts.

Published in The Boston Globe Magazine; Trying to figure it all out by expressing ideas, fears, hopes, and dreams; I have a dog, a very influential dog. Very.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store