I have always had high expectations for myself. I’ve been driven my whole life by expectations. My accomplishments are a result of those high expectations. I’m a goal setter. I’m an achiever. At times, those expectations were a little high and discouraging, and I’d have to reevaluate and set new expectations. But more often than not, I was able to meet the goals I had set, because I had set them. I had a desire. I knew myself. I challenged myself, and I was thrilled when I had accomplished what I set out to do.
I didn’t set expectations for others. I didn’t think it appropriate...until I got married. I’m not sure how, when, or why, but I began to have high expectations for my husband and, as they came along, our children. Maybe it’s because I wanted them to fill the satisfaction I felt that naturally came from accomplishment. Maybe it was because I wanted to be a part of their success. I’m not sure, but now, in the process of writing these experiences I’ve contemplated, “Why?” When it wasn’t appropriate for me to set expectations for anyone else before, why would I set high expectations for individuals within my family? People that I love. Why would I do that to them?
How much better would it have been if, in our talks, I were to find out what they expected of themselves, and then helped encourage them to meet those expectations?
I remember when we taught our children the gospel, how we challenged them to find out for themselves if the principles they were learning were true. Then we challenged them to live it; to keep the Lord’s standard: prayer, fasting, tithing, church attendance, or whatever the principle was for that day. Does this mean the Lord has expectations? Looking in the thesaurus, another word for expectation is desire. Scriptures repeatedly have the Lord saying, “I desire...”
Wouldn’t it be ideal if, once the child knows the Lord’s desires (the Lord’s expectations) and commits to them, that we encourage him in that? Those are high enough expectations, aren’t they? Perhaps it is wise to ponder...
“Whose expectations will be set?” “Will they be effective?”
We can encourage each individual in our family in three ways:
1. in their own expectations
2. in expectations of those in authority over them
3. in achieving the Lord’s expectations as they choose to commit to them
1. Expectations of the Individual
We can only control ourselves and be effective. Of course, when a child is little we can control him or her, but for how long? How effective is that approach? What will happen when that child realizes they are being controlled? How will our being in control effect our teenager?
How fair would it be, if someone else set expectations for me and then demanded that I meet them? That alone would make me want to rebel. With that in mind, could I have driven my children, in some degree, to an attitude of rebellion just from pushing them with my expectations? Was that a form of controlling their lives?
Is it possible that, what little rebellion we went through with our children, I had actually caused through degrees of force? Might not force be a “power struggle,” a struggle for control? We can help create in our children a desire to choose good, and become good, because they want to be good. This can be done through validation and praise. We are saving ourselves down the road if we can acknowledge their right choices as they make them, and talk with them about how they feel because of what they have chosen to do.
Their expectations for themselves are important to them. Shouldn’t they be important to us, as their parents?
2. Expectations of those in Authority
What expectations are exceptable from someone in authority? To what degree is it okay for parents to have expectations of their children? How else would things that need to be done - get done? (Clean house, food, clothes, homework, etc.)
For us, as parents, we thought of two things we could “expect” that were important for our children: obedience and respect. These virtues should be expected from anyone in authority, when they’re used to build the character of those under their leadership. Obedience and respect should never be used in a self-serving way. It will always backfire!
A person in authority is responsible for those under them. Often times, rules and guidelines are established specifically to keep those within their stewardship safe and happy. Having an expectation of obedience to those rules is completely within the bounds of one having authority. When obedience was required in our family, it was to keep our children safe and make their lives easier.
We seldom demanded respect. We tried hard to command respect. We tried to live in a way that our children felt love and respect for us because they felt love and respect from us. Respect is a two way street: respect for authority; respect for the individual; respect for each other’s feelings; respect for our bodies; respect of anothers time; respect for property.
This applied beautifully with respect for things and working towards order in the home. Because we all live in the same house, we all have responsibility to help keep it clean, to take care of it. Respect for things was also important. We couldn’t afford to just give our children money or toys, and pay for food, and buy their clothes, and fix things they damaged, and cover costs of education, and medical expenses, and finish the basement, and...the list seemed to go on and on.
As children got older, they wanted an allowance because their friends got one. We felt it was just as important for them to learn the value of money, and how to take responsibility for “things” as it was to have money and things. They were taught that if something ended up broken through their carelessness, they paid for it. If they wanted to earn spending money, they could help mom by doing laundry, or help dad by mowing the yard. If they wanted a regular allowance, they had to keep their room clean and help wash their clothes. Sometimes, their allowance had to go towards buying their clothes. It was a hard, both for them and for us. I wished we had a little more money to just give them, but at the same time, they learned the value of money and clothes, and the importance of taking care of “things.” They learned to sacrifice; they learned to treat things with respect; they learned to look ahead; they learned to be wise with what they had.
3. Expectations of the Lord
As I’ve personally pondered these questions, I believe that when it comes to religious beliefs and a person’s individual soul, it is up to the parent to teach their children correct principles, but to let them govern themselves, as Joseph Smith taught. This is a process that happens in degrees; and I believe “the sooner, the better.”
The Lord set the age of accountable at eight. He set the expectation that parents are to teach their children light and truth before and after that age. We are to do all we can to help each child know the truth, to recognize how they feel when they live the truth, encouraging them down the path of what’s true, what’s right, and what’s honorable.
However, ultimately, when it comes to meeting the Lord’s expectations, it truly is between that individual and the Lord. If a child grows up feeling forced into certain beliefs, the likelihood of that child rebelling against those beliefs at some point, and the relationship between the parent and child being negatively affected, is high. Force is hardly ever a good thing; it seldom brings positive consequences. When children are little and their lives are in danger, force is necessary. Literally, their lives are in our hands. On the other hand, if it isn’t a dangerous situation, isn’t it possible a toddler could learn quicker through personal experience?
When children are little, after we teach them truth (what is right or better than what they want,) if they insist on doing it their own way, what’s wrong with letting them? Isn’t it better for them to learn the “hard” way when lessons are simple and the consequences aren’t so dangerous or life threatening?
A skinned knee, a bump on the head, possibly other children making fun of them when their socks don’t match or their hair looks funny, because they choose, is much easier to deal with then rebellion, drugs, or possible jail time. No one grows up as a child with a desire or a goal in life to be a criminal. The direction in our life happens choice by choice. It’s a process!
As parents, we can teach children, at a very early age, what that process is; and in doing so we teach them to trust us and the Lord. The process of teaching them truth, letting them experience things their way, then validating their pain if they chose wrong, will not only reinforce the importance of listening to their parents, but can also strengthen their relationship with the Lord as we testify how meeting His expectations will truly make them happier and life easier. Expectations can be effective if we know whose they are.