The Slavery of Expectation

Old Family Photo

Your parents love you and want the best for you. They would never sell you into slavery. Right?

Perhaps not. But if the expectations that your parents (or anyone else) have put on you are forcing you to do things that you don’t want to do, they may be making a slave out of you without even knowing it.

One of the key things that we examine here at God, Money & Me is the way that money — and the things that come along with it — can make slaves of us. Some of the ways that this happens are obvious things like greed, debt and other phenomena that are directly related to money. Others are more sneaky. They’re attitudes that often attach themselves to our financial lives and can affect the way that we think about ourselves and others. And the expectations of people that we’re close to can make a big impact on our lives, financially and otherwise.

It’s inevitable that as you grow up, people are going to put certain expectations on your life. Your parents, your teachers, your pastors, your friends — they all want to see certain things from you. Based on these voices and plenty of other factors, you probably have expectations of yourself as well. These expectations can be a great thing that help guide us to success in life. But misplaced expectations can make us do things that we don’t really want to do. When we let other people’s expectations boss us around, we become slaves to them.

Your family members and other people in your life almost always want the best for you. They want you to succeed in life, and sometimes they offer “guidance” (or pressure) to help you succeed. The problem is that sometimes their idea of success isn’t the same as yours. When their expectations for success in your life don’t line up with your own vision for success, there’s going to be conflict.

This conflict can happen in all kinds of areas of your life. We’re going to focus on the ways that it can happen surrounding money, career and other financial matters. Here are three examples to help illustrate how this can happen.

1) Your parents want you to be rich.

It’s not uncommon at all for parents to want their kids to succeed financially. Sometimes this happens with parents of modest means who want to see their children achieve more wealth than they were able to. Other times, it happens with affluent people who want their children to continue the family tradition of wealth and prestige. Whatever the cause, parents who want their children to be rich can end up pushing those children into circumstances that the kids wouldn’t normally chose for themselves.

If your parents want you to be rich, they may encourage you to pursue high-paying careers such as law, medicine or investment banking. If you enjoy one of those fields, all is well. If none of those things appeal to you — if you’d rather be a painter or a school teacher — then you’re going to find yourself at odds with your parents. If you decide to pursue their career suggestions instead of pursuing the career you want, you become a slave to those expectations.

2) Your parents want you to be poor.

This is not as common as parents who want their kids to be wealthy, but it does happen from time to time, particularly in smaller communities with strong blue-collar traditions. Sometimes parents who didn’t have much education and spend most of their lives in manual labor steer their kids along a similar life path. They want their kids to work on the farm or in the factory like they did, and they may discourage dreams of going to college or moving to a different city to pursue an exciting career.

These kinds of feelings unfortunately tend to come from an inferiority complex. People that have these attitudes toward their children probably see themselves as inferior to other people in society who are more financially successful. If their children show aspirations toward those things, it makes the parents feel like the kids look down on them. It’s a sad situation that has more to do with the parents’ insecurities than the kid’s potential. But if you sell yourself short in life because your parents discouraged you from chasing your dreams, you might be a slave to their expectations.

3) Your parents expect you to support them (or others).

In the ideal world, people reach adulthood, become independent, begin to take care of themselves, and then save money to support themselves well into old age. Unfortunately, many people don’t have that kind of discipline or foresight. A lot of parents that don’t prepare well for their old age expect that their children will financially support them when they get too old to work. And sometimes parents can pressure their adult children to give money to help take care of another family member who has made poor life choices.

These are extremely thorny situations, where adult independence, cultural norms, interpersonal dynamics and family expectations all come crashing into one another. There’s no single right answer to whether you should financially help a struggling relative. But if you’re begrudgingly supporting a parent or family member because that’s what they expect from you, those expectations have made you a slave.

The issue of expectation is a major one that goes a long way toward shaping our relationships with our family members. It’s much bigger than money. But things that happen financially can be an indicator of whether or not our family relationships are healthy. And left unsettled, these kinds of problems will only get worse with time.

If you think you may be a slave to your family’s expectations, now is the time to begin working your way to freedom.


Photo by Martin Pettitt. Used under Creative Commons License.

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