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Expectations We Have About Our Parents

Over the last several years, I've heard various people of different generations express the following five expectations they have about their parents. These expectations frequently cause quarrels and heart-ache. Allow me to expound upon each and why I don't think they need to hinder our relationships any longer.

EXPECTATION #1: My parents should know me better than they do. 

Usually the spirit behind this expectation is something like, "My parents have no idea who I really am! They birthed me and raised me, but they never took the time to hear what I wanted or liked or cared about!" 

I hear a desire to be known and understood behind these words, which is normal and good. We were made with a need to be known. But is this a need that our parents can fulfill?

Pretend this graph represents everything there is to know about Sally: all her thoughts, dreams, needs, memories, and experiences. Sally's husband knows her better than her parents, and her parents know her better than her siblings, but everyone knows her diddly-squat compared to how much God knows her. God knows things about her that she doesn't even know about herself. God has, in fact, already met her need to be known. 

The trouble arises when we expect our parents to satisfy this craving in us. That's simply impossible.

I don't mean we can sail through life without sharing our hearts with others. Even Jesus shared his deepest desires with his friends, and they painfully misunderstood him. But this didn't embitter Jesus against his family or friends. This also didn't keep Jesus from telling others about himself because Jesus wasn't relying on others to understand him. His hope and faith were elsewhere.

EXPECTATION #2: My parents should have overcome a particular foible of theirs by now. 

This expectation seems to be saying, "I know God's schedule for my parent's character development and my parents are falling behind."

Uhhhh. . . do I even need to remind us that we don't have the schedule for our parent's character development? We might think we do, but chances are we probably just want them to change what's most annoying or offensive to us. God is not concerned with making our parents agreeable to us. He's concerned about transforming them from the inside out. This process isn't convenient or nice or tidy.

Secondly, remember that graph above? Pretend it now measures people's maturity levels. Someone's maturity level may be at Level 3 while their parents may be Level 1. But what's the point of comparing? The point is we all are very very far from perfection. And if we focus so much on our parents' failings, we will probably never see our own.

EXPECTATION #3: My parents ought to show their love to me in a certain way.

I have listened to people who were terribly offended when their parent's didn't demonstrate their love in a particular way. They were angry to receive their parent's gifts. They were insulted by their parents help. They felt their parent's attempts to keep in touch were an invasion of their privacy or an attempt to be controlled.

Yes, the world is full of parents who don't love their children very well. But I think analyzing our parent's failures is a misuse of mental energy for three reasons. One, analyzing our parents flaws is rarely done in a loving spirit. Two, we can't see what's actually going on inside our parent's hearts. And three: I've found that absorption with others' flaws can lead to serious blindness of one's own flaws.

One of our greatest flaws is seeking heavenly love in earthly places. See, we all have this need for someone to know all our faults, failings, and quirks and love us anyways. We want someone to express this love by giving us things that are good for us: sometimes feel-good gifts and sometimes difficult gifts. No one on earth can meet this need except God.

EXPECTATION #4: Now that I'm an adult, my parents should treat me as a peer. They ought to listen to my opinions and take my advice.

I think it was Dave Ramsey who referred to parents as having "powdered butt syndrome," which means so long as someone has powdered your butt, they don't want your advice. This is not a vice, but it's easy to think of it like that. "How stuck up! How prideful! I'm open to advice (Just not from them or said in that patronizing way or spoken when I really just want them to listen.)"

Our culture seems to have lost this unique respect for those older than ourselves. Older people are further down the path of life. They've seen more water pass beneath the bridge. They may not have used their time on this earth wisely—although how we might judge this is beyond me—but their position further along in life than us denotes a respect that can't exactly be reciprocated. I must stop there because I'm really talking about something I don't understand.

The fact of the matter is—so long as no laws are being broken—we cannot demand that anyone treat us like adults or value our opinions. But we don't have to be offended and hurt so long as we're not relying on others respect of us to feel good about ourselves.

If we're looking for foolproof assurance that we're valuable, successful, and powerful, we need simply look to the only one who gives value, success, and power. 

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?

EXPECTATION #5: I'm going to be a better parent than my parents by trying to understand my children, loving them sacrificially, admitting my own faults, and treating my kids like peers once they're grown.

Alright, I admit I've never heard anyone make so many promises all in one sentence, but you get the idea. 

Let me first mention that I think it's a good idea to try to improve upon our parent's parenting methods. 

The trouble arises when we start believing that we can actually meet our children's needs to be unconditionally loved, completely understood, thoroughly good, and worthy of respect. I mean those needs that only an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-loving God can meet. If we think we can meet those needs in our children we put ourselves in God's place, and we will most likely have a hard fall full of shame and guilt when we don't live up to our own impossible standards.

Another problem with this expectation is that it may lead to believing that because we might be better parents—just like we may be better at handling money or homeschooling—, that we're also better people who have produced better children.

Every kind of parent on planet earth produces rebel children. I don't mean strong-willed or obstinate children. I mean children who naturally don't want to do things God's way; children who will try to meet all their own needs in any way except through a relationship with their creator. 

And one more thing, so long as we think we're better people than our parents, we will believe we need God less than them. And as long as we think our needs are less, we cannot be filled.


Thank you Abby for once again hitting the nail smack dab right on the head! Bravo!

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