“Expectations kill relationships.” Perhaps you’ve heard this often quoted phrase. There are few relationships that this applies to more than the parent-child relationship – a relationship that was created by God to be deeply nurturing, loving and tender as well as instructive.
Google defines expectation as “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” I love this definition because it builds a strong case for why expectations can be so damaging between parent and child. The parenting relationship was designed by God primarily for one reason: to mirror the parenthood of God the Father to little, immature human beings. That’s a tall order for any and every human parent. But how interesting to note that the expectations of God towards us are that we will fall, fail, sin, need, hurt, rebel, reject, run, and hide from Him! In stark contrast, many earthly parents expect good performance, consistent obedience, upright behavior, responsibility, a quick recovery from pain, submission, acceptance of the rules, contentment and vulnerable honesty. That’s a tall order for any child! In fact, it’s an impossible one.
Someone recently pointed out to me that, while we can deeply grieve the Spirit of God by our attitudes and conduct, we cannot disappoint Him. Why? Because He knows how frail we are. He is not expecting goodness. On the contrary, He is expecting wretched sin. That’s why He sent Jesus Christ, and that’s why we need His Holy Spirit so desperately. In the same way, parents should and will be deeply grieved when their children sin. Disappointment, which is an inevitable human emotion, will come periodically – perhaps even often – because no mom or dad is all-knowing. But will it be allowed to let loose and overtake the reality of redemption in the home?
There are 3 ways that I believe every parent should view expectations – 3 things that will motivate a more Gospel-centered response towards a child’s sin.
1.) Expectations Lead Children to Idolatry
Often, expectations are so strong, and a child’s desire to please so great that the two join forces and erupt in idolatry on a massive scale. The parent’s approval becomes the child’s ultimate god; their disapproval the ultimate evil. On the flip side, expectations are a strong indicator that the parents are building their worth and identity on their children’s behavior. The two people who were commissioned by God to point children to their Heavenly Father and worship Him alone, are not not only modeling idolatry in the home, but re-producing it.
2.) Expectations Breed Deep Discouragement
High expectations always breed deep discouragement in children and teenagers who are working to satisfy a human being who is consistently changing. One of the attributes of God that set Him apart as deity is His permanence. He does not change, and therefore, we can worship Him in total confidence and trust. Parents, on the other hand, are human. They do change. Their expectations change. Children who are raised under the pressure of high expectations will eventually realize that they continually fall short, and live in a constant state of disillusionment with themselves and their abilities. Expectations shake the foundation of a child’s identity – someone whose worth is fixed in God’s eyes, regardless of their actions.
3.) Expectations Result in Devastated Hopelessness
Eventually, expectations result in devastated hopelessness. The goal is unreachable; the bar is too high. Why even try? The spirit has been thoroughly crushed by a god that should never have been worshiped in the first place – a god that was really created to be a simple sign-post, pointing to the One, True God who alone can satisfy.
Ask the Lord to show you today what expectations you are harboring in your heart towards your children that are not of Him. There are certainly healthy standards that we should encourage children to adhere to, and train them up to walk in. But the things that deeply disappoint us or cause us to feel self conscious should be red flags. Our children have become our worth and identity now, and we are asking them to be something for us that only God can be. In so doing, we are teaching them to look to us for something only God can give.