The following article is a guest post from Hannah Curtis, LCSW
My daughter is a young toddler now. On a recent family outing around town, she decided to keep in her hand, through a few stores and the intervening car rides, an oversized red fork from a toy picnic set. Sometime after this outing, I got her a set of sand toys. She loved this set, but not for the reasons I’d imagined. She had a particular fondness for a small blue sand shovel. That night, she brought it with her to her highchair, right along with the big red fork. Suddenly, my perspective changed. That was not a sand shovel, it was the big fork’s long-lost spoon friend.
What I love the most about children is how uniquely they see and approach the world. They are their own people from so early on, bringing to this world their individuality, talents and perspectives.
I enjoy working with adolescents who are on the cusp of becoming adults themselves. Adolescence is the stage in which we attempt to form a cohesive identity, something we started way back in toddlerhood. I often hear of the struggle to reconcile the differences between their own inclinations, dreams, and skills and the expectations that they feel have been placed on them. Some feel strongly that their parents are looking to them to do some very specific task or to uphold some type of lifestyle that they endorse.
I see a lot of unhappiness in these young people who feel that in an attempt to be good children, they must go on a path that does not feel completely right or fulfilling. Expectations, spoken or alluded to, can start to feel like a heavy burden. Often this weighs on what might otherwise be a very good parent/adult child relationship. It is sad because it always comes from only the best intentions from parents. Who doesn’t want their child to be successful, stable, and well-positioned?
For me, the main problem with parental expectation is not the unintended pressure or potential resentment it creates. The bigger issue is that expectations end up being limitations. As a parent, I do not have the imagination, creativity, intuition, drive to know what is best for my child in some areas. I cannot and should not dictate her preferences, ideas, hopes and dreams.
I feel this way about my clients, too. My value is that each person knows their best outcome, and I’m only there to help find the path to where they are going. We are our own best visionaries.
I think it is important to keep in mind that while you might see a sand shovel, someone else sees a funny big spoon. Life experience dictates how we see things. I think we need to allow the next generation a lot of room to see their lives and their world from their own perspective.
Hannah Curtis, LCSW owns and operates New Approaches, her private psychotherapy practice in Portland, Maine. Hannah is inspired by the potential we all have as humans to create fulfilling lives. Both her practice and her blog are informed by an appreciation for our ability to have and enjoy emotional, social, and physical wellness. Visit her blog at newapproachesme.com/blog