Dear Harlan: Is there such a thing as having too high of expectations for your child? I’m a single parent who has had many struggles in my life. I have high standards for my child. I tend to hold him to high standards.
My teen years were a constant battle. Growing up I made a lot of mistakes that set me back. I don’t want my child making the same ones. I didn’t have a father who set boundaries or cared. That’s one of the reasons I put pressure on my son. When is placing high expectations a problem? — High Standards
Dear High Standards: High expectations are only a problem when the bar is set so high that your son can’t get over it. Then he will always fail you and himself. His motivation becomes more about pleasing other people than exploring how to please himself. And when he can’t get your approval, and doesn’t know how to be happy, he could look for other ways to get your attention. Then he might do the things you don’t want him to do.
It’s important to have expectations, but it’s more important to accept him, love him unconditionally and model good behavior. If you love yourself and show him what that means, he’ll learn through you. A more balanced approach is to start with you. Are you happy? Are you balanced? As you work on you, share your journey with your son.
Talk about your childhood challenges. Help him understand that your expectations are based on your struggles — not his. Give him room to make mistakes. Let him learn from your missteps without judgment. Allow him to be a teenager. Expect him to make mistakes. Let him learn from them. If you’re always pushing, he can’t learn how to push himself. And finally, tell him how proud you are to be his father. Every kid wants his dad’s approval.
Dear Harlan: I have a 14-year-old son who is going through difficult times. I am in the process of a divorce. He used to be very responsible and interested in a wide range of activities. He says he is not interested in anything anymore. He doesn’t care about his grades. How can I help him return to being the son of before? — Divorced
Dear Divorced: He’s going through a difficult time because being a teenager means going through a difficult time. Having parents going through a divorce makes it that much more difficult. Everything in his world is changing. There is very little stability. It makes sense that he’s digging in his heels. It’s all he can control. There’s normal teen angst and then there are warning signs of depression. The lack of motivation, disinterest in things he used to enjoy and academic struggles all are warning signs.
Instead of wanting your son to go back to how he was in the past, accept that he is going to change; all teenagers do. As he changes, instead of growing apart, work on ways to stay connected. Give him permission to feel whatever he’s feeling. Give him permission to feel uncomfortable, unhappy and confused by the divorce. Be honest about what you’re feeling without speaking disparagingly of his mom. Find him someone to talk to. Consider family counseling, too. Make sure he has a safe place to process his feelings. The gift is that you know he needs help. Help him, and help yourself, too.