This illustration was inspired by two things. The first was after listening to an podcast episode on “Life Matters” about parental expectations. The second came after observing some of the doctors that I work alongside at the hospital and how they don’t look like they enjoy what they doing. I have often wondered what the percentage is of students studying highly respected or high earning professions, start along these career pathways due to parental or family expectation. After all those years of effort studying, enormous money outlay for University fees plus expectations from family around you, it must be extremely difficult to have the courage to speak up about no longer wanting to be in this profession.
The Life Matters podcast episode about parental expectations raised an interesting question about whether it is better for a child to be brought up with parental expectations or no expectations at all. I can see the problems arise when the extremes are in play. Having parents with strong explicit expectations can lead to living a life that you haven’t chosen and really want. Years may go by before you realise that you have been living a life to please your parents or even worse your parent’s life. On the other extreme, having parents that have no expectations and show a disinterest could lead to a life of floundering and indecision as to the direction to take.
I think I have been pretty lucky in my own childhood. My parents didn’t have strong expectations just implied implicitly through off hand comments and behaviour. I was raised on a farm but there was no pressure on any of us kids to take over the farm. I think this was because I don’t think farming was my father’s desired occupation (he had wanted to be a pilot) and second, he knew that farming was a daily struggle in both making a living and its vulnerability to external forces like the weather.
The importance of education including higher education was encouraged by my parents. A strong work ethic was valued also. I’m sure there would have been some words spoken by the parents if any of us kids hadn’t been able to secure work and decided to live on the dole.
My mum did discourage us following an artistic career pathway. When I was doing TEE art at school. I recall my mum regularly prompting me to not spend so much time on my art and that I needed to focus more importantly on studying the other subjects like Maths and English. I think this discouragement came from her fears around art not being a financially secure occupation- “the poor artist”.
I think we all felt stronger expectations from mum when it came to religion. There was an expectation to go to church every Sunday and follow values of Christian faith. As babies, my older brother and sisters were all baptized however Mum decided to not baptize me wishing that I would make the decision myself. As I became older and didn’t come forward to make this decision, I did start to feel the increasing pressure from mum about being baptized. In the end I went through the ceremony in late middle school. I have a vague recollection that I agreed because mum said it would be really nice for the current church minister to conduct the ceremony before his move with his family to another town. It’s funny how none of us have continued to go to church or follow a religious faith.
My parents did implicitly expect us to all follow the “normal” path in life of gaining an education, securing a stable job, getting married to the opposite sex and then have children. I remember when my sister was pregnant with her first child, there was pressure from both my sister and mum about starting a family too, to share the same experience. It was not until I made a direct statement to them both that I had no plans to ever have children and that there is a high chance I physically can not have children before the probing and pressure stopped. I wonder whether the pressure would have continued if I hadn’t mentioned the second reason?
What are your thoughts about parental expectations? Pros? Cons? How were you raised? As a grown-up do you still feel the pressure to meet your parent’s or family’s expectations?