5 Expectations That Hurt Your Son

When they first handed you your son in the hospital room, where did your mind go? Did you immediately wonder what his cumulative GPA would be upon graduation? Did you dream about how many points per game he’d average in his high school basketball career? Or perhaps you pondered where he might land his first job out of college? OK, my guess is none of these is accurate. You were probably just so in love with this baby that the idea of expecting anything out of him was far from your mind.

But somewhere along the line, we develop expectations. We take our vision of who our son should be and place it on him whether or not he wants it (spoiler alert—he doesn’t). In some ways, this is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it helpful, in fact, it can significantly damage the father-son relationship. While we need to be setting boundaries and making clear which behaviors are appropriate and which are not, we need to minimize, if not eliminate, expectations. Specifically, here are 5 expectations that hurt your son and damage the father-son relationship.

1. Expecting Him to Be You

Your son and you might share a lot in common. You may look and sound similar. You may share interests in music, sports, or movies. Yet without question, he is a unique individual. And sometimes, when we try to push our sons in a particular direction, it can be more about control than about helping them to become the best version of themselves. This can serve to stifle his actual gifts and can create a rift between you, either causing him to feel shame that he can never live up to your expectations or to rebel because he feels the need to get space from you so he can be himself. Let go of your expectations of your son and celebrate who he is becoming.

2. Expecting Him to Be Immature

How many times have you experienced boys, or even young men, behaving in ways you found utterly objectionable, but you simply responded by rolling your eyes and thinking, “Boys are so immature!” On the one hand, it’s true that boys mature more slowly than girls. However, it’s not true that it’s an excuse for bad behavior. Your son needs to understand that treating people with respect, following through with responsibilities, and telling the truth are not issues he gets a pass on because of his gender. You need to set clear boundaries around what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. He’s capable of much more than you might think.

3. Expecting Him to Be Tough

I don’t think it’s wrong to want your son to learn how to push through difficult situations. That kind of inner strength is incredibly valuable. But often when we want our sons to be “tough guys,” what we mean is we want them to go through difficult experiences without expressing emotions that make us uncomfortable. This expectation can stunt our sons’ emotional development and prevent them from learning how to grieve loss and move on in a healthy way. Instead, they may just learn to stuff things down inside so they can inevitably erupt at some future time. Sadness, anger, and grief are all healthy responses to loss. The key is to walk with your son so he learns not to get stuck there.

4. Expecting Him to Be Aware

Awareness is not something we’re born with; it’s something we cultivate. By awareness, I mean a person’s ability to notice what is happening in the room beyond what he is thinking, feeling, or doing. This requires paying attention, listening well, asking questions, observing… In short, this is a learned skill. Often, our sons are ill equipped to handle social environments well because we don’t take the time to teach them how to be aware, we just expect them to get it naturally. Of course, if we’re going to teach them, we need to cultivate it in our lives as well. One of the beauties and the challenges of the father-son relationship is that you can’t really teach what you haven’t learned.

5. Expecting Him to Be Ready

Whether it’s his first smart phone, his first girlfriend, or his first drink, it’s easy to assume he’s ready. As a result, we let him go out without much or any coaching or conversation. Often, though, this is simply a way we avoid the difficult work of having uncomfortable conversations or setting necessary boundaries. On the one hand, our sons can handle more than we often think. On the other, assuming they’re fine just because they’re “old enough” is a great way to set them up for failure. If you aren’t walking with him to prepare him for what’s next, it’s likely that he’ll make some avoidable and perhaps significant blunders. Don’t expect him to be ready; expect him to need your support.

Sound off: What other expectations do we often have for our sons that can actually hurt them?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “When do you feel the most pressure?”