Study suggests number of expectations leads to disappointment that’s passed down through generations

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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada published a study in early March about parent’s hopes and aspirations for their kids. It suggests that 67 per cent of parents are unsure their children will fulfill the hopes they have for them.

At the same time, the study states 83 per cent of parents today are unsure that they achieved the hopes their parents had for them.

The study

From Jan. 2 to Jan. 7, researchers for the national study surveyed 1,012 Canadian parents with children living at home through an online platform.

The president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters released a press statement on the study.

“One telling aspect in the research is that parents have so many hopes for their kids that it can be overwhelming for both parents and children,” Bruce MacDonald says.

The research also suggests many children aren’t reaching their parent’s hopes due to four barriers:
• Difficulty in school
• Stress at home
• Family finances
• Negative emotional states or behaviours

High expectations rooted in parents wanting more for their kids

Elizabeth Myers, a single Calgary mom of two children, says the hopes she has for her son Anton — that he will live a healthy, happy life, contribute to society and do well in high school — stem from her wanting a better life for Anton than she had growing up.

Myers’ mother was also a single mom, but raised four children instead of two. Elizabeth says she feels she disappointed her mother by not listening and learning from her mother’s mistakes.

“I remember my mom saying to me when I was younger about finishing school and I never did that,” Myers says. “I think that’s why I really push [my kids] to finish school because I dropped out of high school and I went down the wrong roads.

“When I got pregnant with my son I was working retail making $4.25 an hour living in housing and I guess I didn’t really feel like I could overcome it at the time.”

Top 10 hopes parents have for their children

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada’s study suggests these hopes are among the most important for parents:

1. Possess the values needed to make good decisions (87 per cent)
2. Have the confidence to pursue their dreams (85 per cent)
3. Get a job they love (77 per cent)
4. Experience the joy of personal freedom (69 per cent)
5. Be generous and giving towards others (66 per cent)
6. Freedom from money worries (59 per cent)
7. Be highly successful in their chosen career (56 per cent)
8. Achieve academic success (49 per cent)
9. Have their own unique style (46 per cent)
10. Make their community a better place (44 per cent)

James Penner, sociology professor at the University of Lethbridge who also conducts youth research says, “What jumps out at me [about the Big Brothers Big Sisters study] is that parents — when they’re concerned about their own kids — need to remember that even more of them feel that they in some ways disappointed their own parents.”

He suggests its society’s pressures and expectations that are causing this disappointment. While the best formula to combat this, Penner says, is to have warm parents who are highly involved in their child’s life.

“I think parents and children together are feeling a lot of pressure in a world where it’s hard to create a joyful life for your children when there are these other stressors like employment,” Penner says.

“So children follow the advice we give them — which is often to go to university — but many are coming out with major student debt in a contract world. So they feel in some ways like they got the mortgage when they didn’t get the house.”

Penner suggests high expectations and disappointment may not always be a bad thing. He says that when parents and children have strong bonds, disappointment can be worked through and improved upon.

However, if parents and children are distant, disappointment can be demotivating.

“So yes, have high expectations for your children, but be there with them. Give them all the support,” Penner said. “I would tell parents, ‘Your ceiling should be your child’s floor.’”

Mentoring thought to help kids meet expectations

The study states 67 per cent of parents today who did not achieve their parents’ hopes say that a mentor would have helped them better reach those expectations.


Myers recalls years ago, arriving home from work, exhausted. As a single parent of two children, she would walk in the door to an unclean house, piles of bills sitting on the kitchen table and her son wanting to play.Elizabeth Myers hopes her son, Anton, will graduate high school with good grades, live a healthy, happy life and contribute to society. Photo by Jenica Foster

“I’d feel guilty,” she says. “You know I have this poor kid, who wants my attention, wants to do something fun and wants this positive energy and experience from his only parent and I just couldn’t do it.”

Her son Anton, now 16, has been mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area for about five years. His mom originally signed him up for a recreational program where he would do activities like snowboard at Canada Olympic Park. He has now transitioned to a program designed to help him decide his career.

Myers says mentoring has not only helped Anton meet her expectations, but also helped him set his own. Anton says in the future, he wants to have a career where he loves going to work every day and his personal integrity isn’t challenged. While he is unsure what that career will be, he says mentoring is helping him decide.

Jodi McKay, manager of service delivery for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area, says she’s uncertain whether parents today are setting expectations too high.

“When we look even at Big Brothers Big Sisters, our vision for our agency is that every young person realizes their full potential,” she says.

“That’s what we as an agency are all about, so for us to say that the hopes are too high or not, I don’t know if I can really comment on that. But we do know through the work we do we can help those children and youth reach some of those aspirations.”

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