Good enough parenting
THE CORE EMOTIONAL NEED FOR REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
THE DOMAIN OF EXAGGERATED EXPECTATIONS
The fourth domain of schema clusters is known as “Exaggerated Expectations”. To the extent that parents do not meet the core emotional need for realistic expectations, we believe their children will experience the opposite—Exaggerated Expectations. This means that their children will be at risk of developing some or all of the lifetraps in the Domain of Exaggerated Expectations, namely, Unrelenting Standards, Punitiveness, and Self-Sacrifice. This chapter explains these three lifetraps in detail, and contains the “Basic Safety Zone”.
The Lifetrap of Unrelenting Standards / Hypercriticalness
The first maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of exaggerated expectations is unrelenting standards / hypercriticalness. The core message of the unrelenting standards lifetrap is: “I must work very, very hard to meet very high standards, or I will be criticized. I do not have time to relax, or have fun. I must always be efficient.” The driving words for this lifetrap are “I should . . .”
Children who develop this lifetrap are propelled by their incessant need to push themselves. They are constantly striving to work harder in order to get to a better place because their present position is never good enough. In fact, this lifetrap is related to the lifetrap of defectiveness—for contentment is always going to be one position away, within sight, but unreachable. As they grow older, they develop standards that must be in place, thus making them critical of people who fail to meet these standards. These self-made rules accompany them everywhere they go as they impose them on everyone. They frequently look down on others who do not live up to their exceedingly high expectations and pick on small issues that no one else would have noticed. Moreover, they show a lack of grace towards others’ mistakes.
People with the lifetrap of unrelenting standards actually think the standards they impose are normal and that others are stupid, shoddy, careless, lazy, unkempt, inept, or slow. They are completely unaware of the fact that their reactions to situations, along with their opinions and condemnation of others, are usually out of proportion with the reality of the situation. They are usually hard on themselves as well as others; taking time off makes them feel guilty. They find it difficult to relax, and all of these factors combine to take a toll on their health. While they may achieve success in life, it usually occurs at the expense of relationships. Because they constantly expect others to comply with their rules, they are difficult companions. (Those with the unrelenting standards lifetrap do not notice that they only have these standards in certain areas but that in other areas, they fall short as well; for example, the no-nonsense academic whose desk is a mess, or the doctor who works tirelessly but has no time for his children).
Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:
• One or both parents had very high standards in areas such as cleanliness, academic achievement, and good manners. Even though the parent might not have directly imposed these standards on the child, the parent still might have modeled the trait.
• The love of one, or both, of the child’s parents was performance-based; thus the child did not experience unconditional love from either, or both, of them.
• The parents’ conversation was frequently about what the child should achieve, what others were achieving, or how the child should measure up. Character was defined more in terms of achievement than inner qualities.
• The parents were hypercritical about others in their conversations and did not encourage the child.
• When the child did not achieve, she was criticized and shamed; nothing was ever good enough for her parents (or a teacher or a coach).
• The child developed these standards to soothe the inner pain in her life possibly from an inability to forge deep relationships with others—in order to feel good.
Figure 17.1: The Lifetrap of Unrelenting Standards (Francois as an adult)
Figure 17.2: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Unrelenting Standards Lifetrap (Francois as a child) Go to Appendix 1
The Lifetrap of Punitiveness
The second maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of exaggerated expectations is punitiveness. The core message of the punitiveness lifetrap is: “Mistakes have consequences. I should be punished for making mistakes and so should everyone else. It is not okay to make mistakes. We should constantly strive for and demand perfection.”
Children who develop this lifetrap have usually been brought up by parents who do not show grace or mercy either to themselves or to others for mistakes. The parents have a “justice at all costs” mentality and inculcate the same mindset in their children. As with their parents, these children grow up to become adults who do not forgive easily; they view all mistakes as crimes that should be punished. With a rigid sense of justice, they see things in black and white. Mistakes are mistakes, whether committed unintentionally or deliberately; they are quick to assign blame when something goes wrong. They often view people who show mercy as weak.
Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:
• The child’s parents frequently blamed and berated him and his siblings when things went wrong. Consequences were usually disproportionate to the mistakes made, and even in adulthood, his parent’s voice is still in his head.
• The child attended a school where others were punished frequently for their mistakes and little grace was shown.
• The child’s parents did not talk much about forgiveness. They had a negative view of people who held such a perspective.
• The child’s parents were “always right”, blamed others and held grudges.
• The child’s parents were hurt growing up and ruminated on memories of this hurt.
Figure 17.3: The Lifetrap of Punitiveness (Kong as an adult)
Figure 17.4: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Punitiveness Lifetrap (Kong as a child) Go to Appendix 1
The Lifetrap of Self-Sacrifice
The third and final maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of exaggerated expectations is self-sacrifice. The core message of the self-sacrifice lifetrap is: “I must meet the needs of others before my own. I do not want to feel selfish, or cause any pain to others.” While this pattern of thinking and behaving seems altruistic, it can create problems in the long run, as it results in imbalanced relationships, and problems with unmet needs.
Typically, children who develop this lifetrap are endearing. They empathize and genuinely care for others, and take on responsibilities in order to relieve others of discomfort. In fact, they would prefer to suffer, rather than allow others to be inconvenienced. Ultimately, they strive to make other people feel better. Their decision to help others does not come from a desire to please, or to avoid conflict or a threat; these children are so in tune with others’ pain and feelings, and genuinely empathize with others so much that they actually feel that it is their responsibility to provide relief for others. When they do not sacrifice for others, they feel guilty. One might wonder, why is this a lifetrap? Because such a selfless mind-set becomes a danger when these self-sacrificing people give and give without getting their own needs met; eventually, they experience burnout, as well as physical and mental health problems.
Special Note to parents who are in caring occupations: If you are a healthcare provider, a counselor/therapist, a minister, or any helping professional, you probably already struggle with balancing your work and family life, and no doubt are aware that you need to develop a routine of “self-care”. Should you choose to go the extra mile for others, as many noble individuals do, make sure that you do not demand the same of your children: it may not be what they want to do—maybe they will be happier and more productive working in another line of work.
Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:
• The child’s parents were unable, for whatever reason, to take care of her and/or her younger siblings. So she stepped in and assumed this responsibility, going beyond what should have been expected of a young person.
• The child’s parents role-modeled self-sacrifice for her. Perhaps, they were working in one of the helping professions, or highly involved with volunteer work.
• The child had to work, or help out, in her parents’ business early on in life because of her parents’ financial problems, or poor health.
• The child assumed the role of the parent (parenting their parent) at too early an age, instead of the other way round. For example, one of the child’s parents might have been an alcoholic, had a chronic illness, or was being abused by the other parent, or other relatives.
Figure 17.5: The Lifetrap of Self-Sacrifice (Daniella as an adult)
Figure 17.6: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Self-Sacrifice Lifetrap (Daniella as a child) Go to Appendix 1
Basic Safety Zone
Parents are responsible for protecting their children’s welfare. By meeting the core emotional need for realistic expectations, parents are protecting their children against a myriad of problems brought on by today’s stressful lifestyle.
One of the world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, revealed that among developed countries, Singapore has the lowest mortality rate for young males—this is something to celebrate!1 (The US has the highest.) On the down side, the increased education-related expectations placed upon Singapore boys and girls by parents and teachers means they are experiencing sleep deprivation, which results not just in crankier children, or shorter tempers, but also in serious mental health issues.2
Forgive us for including more stats, but they speak volumes!
• Children with trouble sleeping at 12-14 years old were more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts at ages 15-17 as those who didn’t have sleep problems at a younger age.
• Studies show a 50% increase in children having anxiety disorders in their twenties when they had persistent sleep difficulty at age nine.
• Singaporean children get an average of two hours less sleep than their peers in Switzerland. One professor said, “My personal experience is that many children and teenagers (in Singapore) are quite sleep-deprived . . .” and when they get more sleep, they show “markedly improved academic ability.”3
• Most parents are unaware of the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, in combination with other stressors, on the mental well-being of their children.
• Singapore leads the world in mental illnesses among youths.
• Staying awake for 24 hours in a row is on par with legal intoxication with alcohol (in driving) in impairing performance. Sleeping six hours per night for two weeks causes a similar level of impairment as staying awake for 24 hours.4 (RR17.1)
Research has revealed the dangerous effects of excessive expectations of educational institutions on the physical well-being of young children. Specifically, students in different parts of the world are carrying backpacks that exceed the recommended weight of 15% of their body weight. Carrying these heavy backpacks has an adverse impact on their bodies by undermining their lung volume and causing chronic back pain5 (RR17.1).
How does eyesight fit into this discussion? Myopia has emerged as a major health issue in parts of Asia, affecting most children. The causal factors include the over-emphasis on education and inadequate time spent outdoors; the latest research links lack of exposure to sunlight with myopia. Parents need to ensure that their children spend two or three hours a day in the sunlight. In Asia this is affecting 80–90% of graduating school children compared to 10–20% in other parts of the world.6 No wonder our family doctor, Dr. Malcolm Lim, told us his biggest gripe with Singapore parents is not protecting their kids’ eyesight! (RR17.1)
So please take this issue seriously: we owe it to our children and the future of our societies not to let our exaggerated expectations inflict physical and mental harm on the next generation!
This is not about our family but it is based on something I (Karen) saw in the leading Singapore newspaper called The Straits Times, and I wanted to show that all is not gloom and doom—One Singaporean mother, a Madam Poh, responded to the articles on sleep deprivation by sharing her family’s schedule, which we consider to be a recipe for healthy parenting, albeit difficult to follow in today’s climate. Nevertheless, we have included it as a good example for which to strive. In short, Madam Poh wrote that she and her husband, who both work full-time, have three girls aged five, seven, and ten. They have breakfast with their daughters, put them on the school bus, and then head straight to work; thus, they are able to start work by 7:30am at the latest. Their daughters come home by school bus and do their homework before their parents get home, supervised by a caregiver. On a typical day, Madam Poh and her husband leave work by 5pm to have dinner with their girls by 6pm and address any homework questions after dinner. They play together or watch a bit of television. By 7:30pm, they are reading a storybook with their girls and lights are off by 8pm. The older two wake up at 5:50am after ten hours of sleep. The five-year-old wakes up at 6:30am and takes a one-hour nap in the afternoon. Thus, all the Poh children meet the requirements stated in the National Sleep Foundation’s suggested sleep guide. Well done, Poh family!!