(Not So) Great Expectations - a column by Beth Ritchie

By Swindon Link - 12 November 2021

Opinion and Features

Link columnist Beth Ritchie reflects on the tyranny of expectations

My son has recently been identified at school as one of the Most Able (humble brag). This means that he’s been put on the list of kids that will be pushed harder and given more difficult work, because the teachers believe they’re capable of more.

It also means that as his mum, my instinct is now to fully expect him to do very well at GCSE and A-levels (probably in super academic subjects), then get into a great university and go on to have the kind of career I can boast about to my friends.

But knowing what I know about expectations, I'm going to fight that instinct with every bit of strength I have. Because expectations kill things. Seriously.

The poor kids who feel the burden of their parent’s expectations are the ones who burn out or end up miserable. Those that are considered “just average” get a much easier, less stressful ride (I should know, I was a solid B student my entire life and didn't have half the pressure of my genius friends).

And it's not just academic expectations, or those of a parent that can cause problems. Having expectations, and the fact that nothing ever lives up to the pesky things in the way we expect, can cause problems in all areas of our lives.

When you first meet a potential partner and hardly know them, you have zero expectations of the relationship. This makes it rather easy to think of them, or more importantly this relationship, as "the one".

In time, you can't help but to start to get expectations (I have no idea where they come from and why, I don’t think anyone rocks up to Cupid and says: “I’ll have a big bag of relationship ruining expectations please”). You expect to see your partner on certain days, you expect to hear them say certain things, you expect to hit relationship milestones at certain points, expect, expect, expect...  and when any of these expectations aren't met, you’re turned right off.

But it’s a two-way street because the person on the receiving end of the expectations will feel rubbish and be put off by the pressure. Expectations will kill an otherwise great relationship stone dead.

Simply put, expectations spell misery for everyone. Experience has taught me that it’s far better to have no expectations of your partner, your kids, your family, your friends, your life, because it's those that have expectations that end up heartbroken or disappointed.

And those poor kids who are living under the weight of their parents’ expectations will likely end up with whatever joy of learning they have sucked right out of them.

So, as far as my son goes, I have no expectation of what he’s going to do with the opportunities he will be offered as part of this programme.

I’ve told him just to do his best and I’ll be proud as punch. (I mean, I have nothing to prove, my parenting credentials have already been established because my child is clearly a genius).

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