Expectations vs. reality

Sometimes we have to go in a different direction on the parenting roadmap

As we take on the journey of parenting, many of us create milestones and expectations for ourselves as parents. We construct a roadmap of things we will do and things we will expect from our children or for our children. It is easy when our children are babies to believe in this parenting map because we can control so much when they are small.  

But what happens when our expectations of our kids or ourselves as parents are not met? What happens when things go differently or we struggle to help our kids through these expectations? In my experience, nowhere is this truer along the journey than in adolescence.

For many parents, watching their child transition into adolescence can be hard, as their behaviors become more challenging, their thoughts more broad and with their sense of self swinging like a pendulum.

Their exposure to bigger issues, peers and greater expectations, both socially and academically, can lead to a myriad of frustrations and surprises for parents and their kids.

I have parents come to therapy to talk through their concerns about their child’s changing likes and dislikes and sometimes their child’s disengagement from an activity that they had previously enjoyed. Parents also get worried when their once straight-A student struggles academically.

In these cases, the important part of these discussions with parents and kids is finding the root cause. Sometimes it is purely a decision on the child’s part to experience new activities. It may also be because as kids get older, time management becomes can be overwhelming and they feel the need to pick and choose how they divide their time. There are other times when kids are trying to manage anxiety or depression.

The reason for the change is imperative as it gives the parent and child a starting point for a conversation. Often kids don’t talk to their parents because they feel pressured by them to keep up with their hobbies, activities or grades. There are times when your expectations can make kids feel guilty or resentful.

This is where the real challenge is, as many parents are committed to upholding their beliefs about how their child should develop and participate in their middle and high school years.

Some parents wrestle with changing these expectations for fear that their kids will not be successful. This rigidity can shut kids down emotionally and does not allow for healthy dialogue and the development of the emotional coping skills needed to work through life’s roadblocks.

As kids move into adolescence, communication is crucial, but so is flexibility. Allowing our kids to identify their stressors is critical to helping them find the reasons why they feel and behave the way they do, and why they make certain decisions.

Sometimes it is in the best interest of the child for the parent to hold firm, but there are times when re-working expectations might allow the child to feel empowered to make decisions or to fail in a supportive environment.  

Tracey Tucker is executive director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.

More Parenting in the Moment columns by Tracey Tucker

Making sleep a priority

Adequate sleep time is critical for adolescents

At the finish line

Senior year is perilous for both students and parents

The push and pull of letting go

Managing the many emotions you will have when your child leaves home

Transitioning from teen to adult

How to navigate the changes ahead

Supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered teens

Support for youth revealing their sexual orientation is critical
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