The Burden Of Expectations


When I was a child of 8 or 9 years-old I didn’t know much about expectations. I lived in a very small town in England. A small town filled with small dreams and a very narrow scope of life experience. Of the 2,000 people that lived in that town I would guess that back then less than 100 of them had traveled abroad and even if they did get to go overseas it would be to the Costa Del Sol in Spain (otherwise known as “little England”).

No one that we knew went to college. I remember it was the talk of the town for weeks when a boy in my Aunt’s neighborhood was accepted. Life was simple. Mums stayed home with their kids and had the dinner on the table when the Dads got home from work (or maybe the pub). Kids played outside in the streets until it got dark. No one had a big house, very few had cars and I can’t remember anyone ever talking about their job.

My Dad wanted more.

When he moved us to “America” (just the word conjured magic and mystery in our minds) his major goal of the move was that all four of his children go to college. My Dad believed strongly in education and in his mind it was an indisputable fact that it was only education would give us the choices that he never had.

I’m not so sure.

I always tell people that had we stayed in England I would have been married with four kids by the time I was 25. Now, through the magic of Facebook and the ability to get in touch with your best friends from childhood, I know that I was probably right. Let me be very clear. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with having a family when you are young. Taking care of a family and being a Mom is all my sister ever wanted and she made the perfect choice because she is one of the best Moms I know.  She is happy, content and fulfilled. The key word in the prior sentence being “choice”.

I believe that although education can expand your options, it isn’t necessarily education that gives us choice. It’s expectations. When you live in a small town with small dreams and a narrow scope of life experience, you don’t have many expectations. You haven’t seen many options. You don’t understand the breadth of opportunity that exists in the world, so you settle for what you expected to happen anyway.

So here is what I have been pondering lately. Is that a bad thing? Although I believe that being married with four children was a choice I did not make because I had other expectations – who is to say that I wouldn’t have been happy? Perhaps not knowing that there were other choices available to me would make me incredibly content with my life. If I had no other expectations how could I not be content?

The question I would like to pose to you today… are we gifting our children with a terrible burden by giving them such high expectations? I spend all day telling my daughter that she can be anything she wants to be… no limitations. Woah. What a huge responsibility!  We are currently traveling the world with her.  She is exposed daily to all kinds of lifestyles and her horizons are being constantly broadened. Expectation creates choice, but can a person have too many choices? Will our children be constantly expecting more? Can they ever be content?

And if telling our children they can be anything they want to be is wrong? What do we tell them instead?

*Photo Credit – Mark Cabrelli (on a recent return visit to my childhood town – Thornbury, England)

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