Great (and Not So Great) Expectations

When Katie came into her ‘artist’ stage and was using our basement as her studio, I made a sign for the upstairs door: Do Not Disturb – Artist At Work!

Expectations can either elevate or deflate us, depending on how it comes into play.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | November 19, 2014

In my Parents Anonymous Group, the topic of expectations came up for discussion after a parent called their child a “pig” and a “slob.” The facilitator said we should set expectations with our children. If we called them negative names like ‘pig’ and ‘slob’ then it would become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Even though I was not the parent, that very day I began calling Chelsey and Katie ‘ladies’ without knowing whether it would influence them or not. The first few times saying ‘ladies’ I was met with strange looks from both girls but it soon became the norm. The odd thing is that I also felt better using ‘lady’ or ‘ladies’ rather than ‘hey you’ or ‘hey kids.’

Was speaking about the girls as ‘ladies’ effective? I must admit that I never felt like a lady myself but looking at my daughters Chelsey and Katie – they are ladies today. As adults they wear makeup, dress nicely and behave well when they go out in public so I would say my expectations were met.

There are many positive expectation labels parents can choose from: Sports star, math whiz, debater, peacemaker, mountain climber and so on.

Children hear you when you speak with others about them; using positive labels can have a lasting effect. Chelsey and Katie were my Van Goh and Stephen King, or at the very least, artist, chef, writer and editor. In this case, kids set the expectation and parents support that dream in whatever way they can:

When Katie came into her ‘artist’ stage and was using our basement as her studio, I made a sign for the upstairs door: Do Not Disturb – Artist At Work!

Because of Chelsey’s resilience and tenacity I dubbed her ‘my hero,’ a term used even today

Labeling any child (or adult) with a negative name chips away at their and the parent’s self-esteem and can have a profound negative effect. Call a child a slob and they will lose interest in trying to clean their room and give up; expectations, unfortunately, will be met.

Gender issues often come up when discussing expectations. When parents have children of both genders, it is important they think about what they say to their children:

Parent to son: “Great muscles! I bet you’ll make a great athlete someday.”

Parent to daughter: “Look at you… you are so pretty!”

Expectations for boys are often laid out from birth but girls’ expectations can be lacking and it is not only by parents, friends and relatives join in. That is not all… Toy manufacturers plaster boy images on trucks, chemistry sets and sports equipment while girl images don doll and play-house items they assume appropriate. Don’t look now but parents may be sharing the same deodorants and razors packaged with feminine or masculine colors.

Parents can also place invisible limits on their children by things they say:

“You don’t want to be a rodeo rider – that is so dangerous!”

“You don’t want to be a cook – they don’t make much money.”

Parents need not examine every word spoken to their child; parenting is not that difficult or complicated. Parents spend the most time with their children so developing expectations to fit their values is important. That ‘cute’ little girl can decide how she looks accepting her Ph.D. in science or math.

What should parents expect?

Expect great things… Impress upon children the value of education, of kindness, cooperation and mutual respect in the family. Take children to libraries on a regular basis and ask children questions about their interests. Provide children equally with information and experiences to enhance what they already know. If a child is interested in archaeology then envision them, of either sex, discovering a new prehistoric creature and support their dreams to get there.

Parents may be unknowingly placing limits on children by expressing doubt. That doubt can punch a great big hole in greatness. When doubt creeps in you can show it the door by saying ‘what if’ and allowing kids to work out the details.

Now, in another semi-related form, expectations can be disappointing but is 100% avoidable if parents keep it real.

Parents may say, “We are going to have such great fun visiting Grandma and Grandpa!” But what happens is the children have nothing to do because they live in a retirement community and there are no activities or children their ages in the area – complaining comes next. Realistic expectations could have prepared the children for the visit.

Parents could say, “We are visiting Grandma and Grandpa because we love them; you may be bored so take a book and games to fill those not-so-fun times.” The expectation is that the visit will happen no matter what and that by preparing, children can still have fun.

Bookworm or Slob; which label would you choose for your child? Which label would you want for yourself?

The holidays come in with a blast the day after Halloween and media pumps up the wants lists and expectations to incredible proportions. To keep children’s expectations in check, parents can explain their plans for the holidays, how much they will spend or even not celebrating at all. Some families now volunteer together during the holidays to teach children gratitude for what they do have.

After the December holidays, many talk of the let-down feeling that comes when expectations are not met with reality and it is not only the children complaining. Parents are responsible for setting expectations that match reality to even out moods, frustration and disappointment.

Tip: Do not label your child with a name you would not like for yourself.

How do you help children set expectations? Share your expertise with others.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Kerri Lee Smith Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of iwona_kellie Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of woodleywonderworks Under Flicker/CC License.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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19 Responses to Great (and Not So Great) Expectations

  1. tric says:

    I think consciously or not most parents label their children, or at best put them in boxes, the chatty one, the quiet one, the funny one, the serious one. Boxes we spend a lifetime trying to get out of. Even though I have tried hard I bet my children would say I have done it to them. Hopefully they are not labels that are too negative. Yikes I feel bad now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Don’t feel bad, Tric, we have all done this at one time or another. When Chelsey was a toddler we lived in a small apartment and the older gentleman who lived below us complained often. I called her my little Buffalo, not really thinking about it and only for a short time. I am forever grateful to Parents Anonymous for all I learned there.

      My father put a doily on my head and called me “Gravel Gerty,” if you can imagine that. I googled the name once and there was a cartoon character by that name – and she was very funny looking. 🙂

      No, I would not worry at all, my children have all survived to become functioning, productive adults and yours will, too.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Julia Manuel says:

    Insightful gentle article, thank you. And many thanks for following my new blog, I’m honoured. Looking forward to reading more of your posts! Peace, love and light, jules

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic post Jackie. I think positive works in every life situation. Negativity can break and destroy. If only I had had positive things said to me as a child. Happy Thanksgiving. Hugs, Barbara


    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      I agree, Barbara. I have wondered how different my life would have been if my parents had been Parents Anonymous members.

      I hope you and your sister have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

      Hugs back, Jackie


  4. gpcox says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. abodyofhope says:

    Another person commented that every parent labels their children in some way- and on the flip side, a parent giving a child credit and special praise when they did not earn it may also inhibit the child’s development.
    I hope many parents read your post and understand how their words can effect their children’s behaviors over a lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      This is not about empty praise, this is about expectations. Even if a child is messy, I would not label them as such, I would label what I expect.
      Praise, to be effective, must be genuine. Praise is a notation of accomplishment or improvement and can serve as encouragement. With my daughters I always tried to give them ownership of their praise as in this example:

      “You worked hard on that science project, you must be proud of your results.”

      As opposed to this example:

      “I’m so proud of how hard you worked on that science project!”

      Can you see the difference? The latter implies that the parent is only proud if the child performs in a manner that pleases the parent. It’s more about internal/external praise. If the child did not do as well, it might sound like this:

      “You are disappointed with your project results, is there something you could do differently next time?”

      As opposed to:

      “I am disappointed your project did not score well, you should have worked harder.”

      My husband was a labeler and no matter how well our daughters performed, he only focused on the negative, he was very vocal and he held a grudge. The years of his negativity showed in our daughters even though I was positive and tried to override the negative. That negativity cost us financially in therapy and other expenses. It is imperative for both parents to get on the same page on discipline, communication and other child rearing issues.

      I was trying to clarify the “credit and special praise when they did not earn it” part of your comment. I never gave undue praise or empty praise. Kids at all ages come to see through that and it erodes their trust in what a parent says.

      That was a superb comment and I thank you for giving me a chance to clarify those points. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • abodyofhope says:

        Very well-said. I think you have great parenting advice on your blog. Through your experiences, I hope others can see their own household more clearly. Thank you for your response.


  6. hrh7 says:

    This is beautiful. It makes me remember how I would have loved to be constantly told that I’m worth it. That everything will happen for me.
    I guess I need to start saying these to myself.
    Thank you. It was a lovely post.


    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      One year at a Parents Anonymous conference I attended a workshop where the woman talked about several aspects of parenting and then she led us into an activity that changed how I thought about exactly what you are talking about. She had us all to close our eyes and relax. You could have heard a pin drop. Then she asked us to imagine our parents standing in front of us – what they were wearing and how they smelled. Then she said for each of us to imagine things we would have liked for our parents to say to us. In a few seconds, you could hear people – mothers and fathers – begin to cry. It was embarrassing but it showed us all that most of us do not get the support we want and need as children. Recently I put a poster on Facebook… “Behind every child with low self esteem stands a parent with low self esteem. ~Tinker”

      We all need to hear positive messages and even more importantly is that we need to give those messages to others, especially children. Positive messages are not flattery or empty praise; they are heartfelt, genuine messages and expectations.

      It takes courage to admit something like that to the world, that we have needs and worthiness, but we all do. Thank you, I love your candor. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: The Conference Exercise That Made Me Think | Parent Rap

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