The unprecedented weight of parental expectations

Sébastien is a piano teacher in the Paris region. Behind him, four decades devoted entirely, or almost, to this instrument which occupies a unique place in family history. “My grandmother loved the piano but did not feel supported by her father, an industrialist who was not very open to any form of art. She had her daughter do it, who herself wanted me to practice this instrument. With endless sessions, which sometimes ended with reprimands, even slaps. And freebies after each exam. “

Sébastien was gifted. And the work, the pressure did the rest. His painfully wrenched success has somehow contributed to boosting his self-esteem and giving him a place in society. This is how “the trap” closed. Because if he cherishes music and if he is fully committed to teaching, he cannot help thinking today that he did not listen enough to himself at the time of the choices. And that echoed it, her life remains under the ancient influence of an alliance of women – mother, grandmother, piano teacher.

Father of two children of around ten, Sébastien refrains from surrounding them with too precise dreams. The eldest, in any case, has stopped the violin, the second does not show an appetite for music. “My wife and I are of the opinion that we encourage them in the path they choose, even if they must make mistakes. This is how we learn ”, he argues.

This testimony illustrates the power of parental expectations, what they carry with their sometimes toxic restorative desire, their long-term effects, sometimes even over several generations. Every parent wants the best for their child. But is what he perceives to be good for his child? “What is certain is that every being needs projections in order to build himself, advances the child psychiatrist Stéphane Clerget. Whether we follow the model or reject it, it remains a benchmark. “

These expectations nourished by parents are expressed sometimes openly, sometimes silently. ” We the dream of a football champion, he was offered a ball very early on. And because he is developing skills in this sport, he will be likely to join the project. “ The projections also often pass by the first name: “It’s a safe bet that parents see the future of the child in a big way if they decide to call him Alexander. And if the first name chosen is also that of the grandfather, we no doubt expect the newborn to develop qualities present in his grandfather ”, he notes.

“The weight of parental expectations has in any case never been so strong, continues this “shrink”. Because, with the fall in the birth rate, they are concentrated in each family on a small number of children. In addition, girls, who once could “succeed” through marriage, are now the subject of expectations as high as boys, in terms of educational and professional career “, observes Stéphane Clerget.

The development of child psychology has also helped to change the situation. “Fifty years ago, many considered that the little ones grew on their own, left to the vagaries of destiny. Today, parents are aware that they have a real role to play in the success of their offspring. And all the more so since social success is more than ever correlated with academic success. “

Paradoxically, it is sometimes by lowering the pressure, or even by silencing their aspirations that a child is led down the path. “I have always felt free to make my choices. And I became a farmer by attraction, and not having to ”, thus analyzes Vincent. Interrupting a first year at the Faculty of Sciences of Marseille, the one who was then only a young adult decided to return to Mallemort (Bouches-du-Rhône) to help his father in his fruit and vegetable farm, while waiting for his register in BTS. “I then understood that he was only waiting for that”Vincent remembers. And when, a year later, his father died suddenly, the young man, the penultimate of five children, did not hesitate: while pursuing his studies, he took over the land cultivated by his family for five generations, land from which he would end. by being expropriated to allow the construction of a TVG line.

Since then, Vincent has created, with his wife, a former veterinarian, a farm that produces organic milk and butter in the Hautes-Alpes. To his children, aged 2 and 14, he would like to bequeath “The peasant values ​​of effort, rootedness, respect for the land”. Even if they exploit them in another framework … Because he hears “Leave them free of their orientation”. Which does not prevent him from saying to himself that “It would be a shame if the project, the work provided, the knowledge acquired were lost to the next generation”.

“A child is an extension of ourselves”, recalls Annick Pochet, family therapist in Geneva. “We have to accept that this trace escapes us, that it is not the exact copy of our dream. To varying degrees, parents are necessarily disappointed with their child, and vice versa, she plays down. The key is knowing how to revise our expectations, adapt them to the personality, aspirations and capacities of the child. Otherwise, he risks entering into resistance, by opposing head-on or by multiplying the failures, the accidents, on the path traced for him. “

This revision, Sophie experienced it shortly after the birth of her second child, suffering from a disability. “When Ludovic was 5 years old, I just dreamed of seeing him read one day”, confides this mother, who gradually pushed back the horizon of her expectations until her son began training for superior. If she always made sure not to let the situation weigh on the other three members of the siblings, she was careful not to instill between brothers and sisters “This competitive spirit which sometimes leads to excellence”. “As a family, we left the great highway of ambitions to take side roads, with attention to the fragility of each other. Paths sometimes painful but otherwise creative and fascinating. “


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