“Did you like it?”
“…it was, um, interesting.”
“Oh right…is that a good thing…?”
What do you expect from your child? From your one year old? From your five, 10, 15 or even 30+ year old?
Expectations of achievement or performance are one thing, but moral, parental expectations may feel most pressing. Many people struggle throughout their lives with the crushing burden of (perceived) parental expectations.
So what should we expect? The Bible tells us all to be like Christ – not occasionally like him, or a little bit like him, but absolutely like him all the time! For us or our children to meet that standard is of course impossible but that is what God demands of us.
Perhaps that is why we may sometimes live in guilt. Not the sense of guilt God wants, which leads to sorrow, confession, forgiveness and then peace of mind, but the guilt that can lead to demotivation, even self-hatred and depression.
One difficulty we face is that maintaining high expectations of children can seem harsh and is very tiring. God advises fathers in particular not to “exasperate” their children, which translates at least in part to picking your battles. Telling a child off every time they do something wrong is not necessarily a sign of wise parenting. On the other hand, we need consistency and can easily spoil them by consistently letting them get away with things in the name of trying to be nice. It’s a fine line but I think we should always expect more of our children while having infinite patience with their trying to live as God wants them to.
Infinite patience…hmm. It’s not going to happen, but it can be made a little easier by reminding ourselves of God’s infinite patience with us. He has given us life, our children and everything good we have in our lives. If we are his then he has saved us from our sins and given us eternal life and yet we let him down every day. Despite this he welcomes us back with open arms when we ask for forgiveness. Not once, not 100 times or more, but every time.
Jesus told a parable where a man owed a fortune to the king, at a time in history when debt meant being sent to prison. The king was merciful and gave the man more time to repay his debts. That man, in his ingratitude, then went and had flung into prison a poor man who owed him a few pence.
It’s easy to blow up at our kids when they disobey in exactly the same way for the umpteenth time, and although anger at disobedience may frequently be justified, it wouldn’t do us any harm to bear in mind how many times we have disobeyed God and yet he has unbelievably and graciously welcomed us back. Have you ever had an exchange like this?
“Daddy/Mummy, I’m really sorry.”
“That’s not good enough.”
Often that is because they have broken something, spoilt something or upset someone (something perhaps less naughty than careless) that we come out with a reply like that. The wonderful thing about God of course is that a real sorry is good enough.
Perhaps a key to dealing with our expectations is to look at how God manages his expectations of us. When he told us to be like Christ he was not simply handing out a set of instructions but giving us an example to follow.
We may best serve our children not by trying to turn them into the perfect people we will never be ourselves but by focusing on setting them a good example. They are our first and most important mission field and they will get their idea of what it means to follow God not so much from what we say about it but how we behave.