Being unburdened from our parents’ expectations
Every family has a set of ideals and expectations that it passes on to its next generation. Our own family is no exception. We have all grown up with our parents setting certain goals and standards for us, whether intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or subtly. This is especially true in Asian cultures which place great emphasis on ensuring that their children succeed in life. Not only is there pressure from one’s parents, but also from one’s extended family of grandparents, uncles, and aunties. Such stresses from a young age can lead to ungodly consequences, despite our family’s best intentions.
Ironically, even if our family tried to enforce good Christian values at home — without showing us how to relate to God as our ultimate Parent, through an active relationship with the Holy Spirit — we may develop unhealthy patterns of religious “works” and Christian “role playing”. Without an active relationship with God through His Spirit, such “faith” is dead.
“Train up a child in the way he should go”
As God established His law in the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord also set out certain clear instructions on how parents are to guide children:
- Know God as a personal God | Show children that our God is near and they can call upon Him at anytime (Deuteronomy 4:7)
- His will is perfect | Teach children to follow His commandments for they are good and righteous, profitable for their lives (Deuteronomy 4:8)
- Worship Him in our hearts | Demonstrate lives and hearts that are submitted to God’s will and commandments (Deuteronomy 4:9)
- Assemble to listen to scripture | Gather children with other believers regularly to listen God’s Word and worship Him together (Deuteronomy 4:10)
- Don’t just give Him lip service | Teach children to have a healthy reverence for the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:10)
Deuteronomy 4:7-10 ESV For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’
1 Timothy 4:13 ESV Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
When we look at God’s Law in context, we can see how people can misunderstand a verse such as Proverbs 22:6, which says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6 ESV Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Very often, it is mis-read as, “Train up a child in the way he should go … in order to succeed in this world, according to our hopes and expectations for him/her to do well til old age”!
In reality, there is nothing wrong with such a desire. It is a noble one.
The challenge arises when a parent’s hopes and expectations begin to overshadow the Lord’s commandment to teach one’s children to revere and follow God above all else. Children can end up desiring to fulfil their parents’ expectations more than God’s commandments, and thereby turn their father or mother into human idols. Also, see 4 ways we unknowingly idolise our parents.
Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
1 John 5:21 ESV Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
Trusting God with one’s children can a very difficult commandment for any parent to follow because the strong instinct to protect one’s children. Parents have many fears and concerns. Yet in His infinite wisdom, God has warned all parents, “Learn to fear Me all the days that you live on the earth, and teach your children to do the same too…” (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 4:10)
God’s ways are perfect, human expectations are not
Every father or mother on earth has fallen short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:10,23 ESV As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Parents often instil expectations on their children that may “feel right” but that are actually self-centred. They may do this without being consciously aware of it.
For example, they may desire their children to:
- Behave in a certain way (based on the parents’ expectations and personalities, rather than the child’s God-given gifts and personality)
- Think in certain ways and believe in certain things (that are important to the parents)
- Fulfill family expectations that have been passed on through the generations
- Achieve the dreams the parents never got to achieve
- Avoid the poverty, shame, pain, and other trauma the parents suffered
- Not fall behind their peers and cause the parents to “lose face”, and so forth.
Even if such hopes and expectations are not explicitly stated, a parent’s choices and body language will invariably reveal the desires in their hearts.
Such pressures can stifle a growing person’s ability to celebrate who God made them to be, because their parents have already set different standards for them.
This will raise the question of whether a child is truly accepted and loved unconditionally. At its most extreme, such pressures can make a daughter or son feel trapped and enslaved. It can provoke frustration, shame, anger, and even rebellion as time goes on. Also, see Hidden shame from family expectations.
Ephesians 6:4 ESV Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
There are no perfect parents and no perfect parenting methods.
Parents can teach children to the best of their abilities and still unwittingly lead them down a path towards destruction — because they failed to teach their children to seek God first. It is when parent teach children to first “seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, that God will give them everything they need.”
Matthew 6:31-34 NLT “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
No parent has the power to determine their children’s destiny or to save their souls. Only God has that authority and power. All souls belong to God.
Mark 8:36 ESV For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Ezekiel 18:4 ESV Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
The impact of our parents’ expectations on us
As children, every one of us would have desired to please our parents at one stage or another. Such a desire can follow us into adulthood, even long after our parents have passed away.
The extent to which we have been able to fulfil our parents’ expectations of us can have wide-ranging effects on how we feel about ourselves (our identity), about life (our outlook), and about how we behave with others (our relationships), as the testimony at the end of this post goes to show.
The following table shows the possible impact on our relationship with God too.
Children were able to fulfill their parents’ hopes and expectations
Children did not fulfil their parents’ hopes and expectations
Feelings that may result
Pride, superiority, self-importance, self-entitlement
Guilt, shame, low self-worth, insecurity, resentment, anger
The situation may be exacerbated by:
Praise and attention from parents and other relatives
Constant pressure, condemnation, lack of reassurance of love, lack of forgiveness for shortcomings
The common anxiety
Will subconsciously desire parents’ approval and feel a constant pressure to perform, may not feel celebrated as an individual
Will subconsciously desire parents’ approval, may feel rejected and will not feel celebrated as an individual
Relationship with God
May not sense a deep need for God or a desire to be humble before Him
Feels anxious and unworthy of God
The impact of our expectations about our parents
We all have our own expectations of our parents, whether we express them out loud or not. This only sets us up for disappointments and frustrations, because no parent is all-knowing, all-compassionate, or all-perfect like God is. Also, see Parent wounds need to be healed.
Psalm 18:30 ESV This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
Deuteronomy 32:3-4 ESV For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
Even the best parents will make mistakes and will mis-read our needs and desires at times. As believers, it is important that we recognise that such actions are sins against us — not because their intentions have been bad or malicious, but because sin is simply the act of “missing the mark,” a failure to do what is right for us. Sin hurts and we need to acknowledge the pain in order to receive healing from the Holy Spirit.
What’s more, parents who do not believe in Jesus, and who are not led by the counsel of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, are often influenced by the enemy or our souls, Satan and evil spirits. One of the devil’s primary schemes is to kill, steal from and destroy families and children.
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Our disappointments can end up in judgments, which can sound like “my parents should have …”, “my parents haven’t done …”, or “why can’t my parents do this ….?” This leads to bitterness, which in turn, quenches the Holy Spirit’s presence in us.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
A guided prayer
The following is a guided prayer to unburden ourselves of our parents’ expectations of us and to put down our expectations of our parents, so as to renew our relationship with God.
As we truly make God the Lord of our hearts, we will be able to love our parents more purely. We will no longer be held back by our old life of feeling anxious about our parents’ approval. We will be liberated to love our family with Christ’s love.
It is important for us to recognise that God’s ultimate and highest purpose for placing us in our families is to reconcile all of us back to God.
2 Corinthians 5:14-18 NLT Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view… This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
Let us pray this prayer together.
“Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for being the perfect Father from whom every good and every perfect gift comes from. Thank you for my parents, even though I have not always felt fully loved or understood in my family.
James 1:17 ESV Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
As I pray this prayer, I invite the Holy Spirit to search my heart and show me the hidden things that I have kept to myself, which I have yet to openly acknowledge and confess, even to my own ears.
Psalm 139:23 ESV Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
Proverbs 28:13-14 ESV Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
I recognise there have been times I have numbed my heart and muted my voice, in order to show my parents respect. But the collateral damage along the way has been my God-given liberty, identity, and personality. I have suppressed and denied my own instinctive desires and feelings for years. Today, I bring them out into the light so that my soul will no longer be held up within man-made structures. Holy Spirit, please revive my spirit!
Isaiah 57:15 ESV For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
Firstly, I want to confess my expectations of my parents. These have led to disappointment and subsequent judgments of them. These include (please list all your expectations and judgments of your parents, as led by the Holy Spirit.) Oh holy God and perfect Father, I renounce all my expectations of my parents and ask for Your forgiveness for judging them.
Matthew 23:9 ESV And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
I confess there have been times I have felt (please voice any bitter feelings, such as feeling disappointed, let down, frustrated, angry etc.)
Holy Spirit, please pour Your rivers of living water into my heart and heal my heartache. I have been silently resentful and angry for years, and it is killing me spiritually! Today, I repent in Jesus’ name. Make me new, as I renew my commitment to God alone. Please fill me with Your love, so I can love my parents with the love that comes from God, and not from my own sinful, anxious, wayward heart.
John 7:38-39 ESV Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Today, I forgive my parents for all their shortcomings and their sins against me in Jesus’ name. They did not know any better. I give them permission to fail as parents and accept their shortfalls, because they are imperfect, just as I am imperfect. I bless them with the love of God and good health, in Jesus’ name.
Luke 23:34 ESV And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” …
Matthew 7:1-5 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Secondly, I confess my parents’ expectations and judgments of me. They have wanted me to (please list all their expectations.) Such pressures have been heavy on my heart, whether I let them show or not. I have tried to show my parents respect and honour, but I confess it hurts inside me.
This has led me to feel bad about myself at times and I have tried to cope or compensate in unhealthy ways. I confess I have felt (please voice any bitter feelings, such as feeling pressurised, anxious, burdened, trapped, not understood, stifled, silenced, ignored, not favoured, ashamed, guilty, frustrated, angry etc.)
As a result, I have tried to feel better about myself by (list all your coping mechanisms). I renounce these coping mechanisms, in Jesus’ name. I declare I don’t need to rely on them because even “if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close!” I will turn to Jesus every time I feel anxious. God will never reject or misunderstand me.
Psalm 27:10 NLT Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.
1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Today, I renounce my parents’ expectations of me, in Jesus’ name. I declare I am a child of God, and I will follow Him first and foremost. I will no longer be a fearful slave to my family’s hopes and expectations, even though I love them dearly. My loyalty is first to God almighty. He will lead me in His perfect way to love my parents and show them the love of Christ.
Romans 8:12-17 NLT Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
I renounce all word curses my parents have spoken over my identity and break the power of their words over my heart. These include (please list all unkind statements our parents have made e.g. “if you don’t follow my advice, you will fail,” “that is a stupid choice you have made,” etc.) Free me from the trap of their words and replace it with your gift of peace of mind and heart.
John 14:27 NLT “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
I now place my hand on my heart and pray for my heart and soul. Holy Spirit, please remove the seeds of bitterness that have been planted in my heart and soul as a result of my parents’ desires, words, and actions. Jesus, I place my heart under Your loving care and guidance. You have promised You will never abandon me as an orphan and that You will come to me when I cry out to You.
John 14:17-18 NLT He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.
Today, I forgive my parents for trying to put me into a “box” of their making. Sometimes, this box has felt more like a coffin.
Thirdly, I confess my conflicted emotions as a daughter/ son. I confess I have felt (e.g. anxious, proud, entitled etc. OR anxious, bad, conflicted, condemned etc.)
It has caused me to see myself as (please list ungodly self-views etc.) I renounce all these in Jesus’ name. None of these are what God has spoken over or thinks about me! I declare I am a child of God created for good works long ago. My Heavenly Father has especially created me for His special purposes. I forgive my parents for not seeking God’s will for me, and for enforcing their own will on me.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Lastly, I forgive myself for my shortcomings as a daughter/son and release myself from Satan’s persistent accusations.
I ask for my Lord, who is the One who owns all souls, to help my parents with all their demands. I will honour them and help them with their genuine needs, but I cannot be their saviour. You are their Saviour!
I cut all soul ties to my parents that are ungodly, which have led me to idolise them and be enslaved by their emotions and demands.
Lord, create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me so that I can see my parents as You see them.
Psalm 51:10 ESV Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Use me as a vessel for Your truth and light in my family, so that they may know the one true God. Father in heaven, You love my parents as much as You love me. You sent Your Son to die for all our sins, so that we can all be reconciled back to You. Teach me to practise Your loving grace, patience, and perseverance every day, not by my own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. I will stand as an ambassador for Christ in my family!
Zechariah 4:6 ESV Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.
2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen!”
“My past has been a stronghold in my life. I allowed words and mistakes from the past to continuously run my life.
During prayer with some friends, the Holy Spirit revealed that I had over-estimated the importance of meeting the expectations of others – the standards of my in-laws, expectations of being a supermom who is spiritually and emotionally nurturing. This left me saddled with undue anxiety and fear. When I “failed” to meet those expectations, it manifested as emotions of guilt and shame.
We prayed to break the influence and power of these words, wounds and expectations over me, because I am cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Jesus is more powerful than anything in this world, including words or the enemy.
The Holy Spirit then showed us that the ultimate issue was not only the past wounds, words and expectations but my heart.
A prayer partner encouraged me to submit my heart to God. My initial thought was, “What does that mean?” Wasn’t I submitting to God? I am already here praying to renounce my past and the expectations on myself.
I was a bit confused after the prayer. But I pondered upon this for a while. I realised I didn’t really trust God’s promises. Because I was always trying to live up to others’ expectations, I felt He wouldn’t give me good things, so to speak.
But this has changed. I have been able to pray, seek and ask, and then let go. I realised the answer is to wait upon the Lord by reading and mediating His words, and unceasing prayers. The answer seems to be simple but profound.
I listened to a sermon recently about being a faithful servant and staying on course, even in bad days. The key is that our faithfulness depends on God’s assurance and goodness, not ours.
Lamentations says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
His love, goodness, and the hope of salvation have never changed. He knows my weaknesses but the Words of God are the most powerful weapons to defend me, so that I would stay on course. Praise God I have also been able to sleep through the night since then. I have become less afraid to speak into family chaos, when I do it with God and the Holy Spirit. I am learning to trust God with my heart.”
“My relationship with my parents has grown uneasy over time, as we have different expectations and life experiences.
I used to feel quite rejected when I was a child, even though I knew my parents wanted the best for me, especially when both are teachers. They wanted me to be good and follow other’s good behaviour and practice hard to become successful. They made me think that good behaviour and good grades will mean a good future.
They often use comparisons with other people to drive me to listen to them. It seems like I am never complete or enough, as nothing much I do is up to their standard.
Most of the time, I feel like I am in a school setting even when I am at home… always needing to listen to instructions. It seems I am never enough.
My parents believe it is easy for me to get harmed. They are also afraid that I will follow in their footsteps as they consider themselves to be not that “successful” or “smart”. All they have in mind is for me to have a better life.
But as their daughter, I feel rejected and don’t even believe that I am accepted by the family. Most often, I don’t feel heard and I need a lot of permission and approval from them as they are the providers. I feel judged for things I do, to a point that I decided to withdraw and not want to connect to them.
I realised my expectations of them blinded me, for I only focused on how they ignored my feelings. Yet I neglected that they are inexperienced in parenting and have different ways to express their love. I did not realise my experience with my parents would affected my depiction of Abba Father. I recognise I need to understand how God sees me differently from my parents.
For a very long time, I acknowledged I had difficulty finding my identity. Now, I know I need to understand how God sees me instead. He is Faithful and He has a purpose for me. I am not defined by my performance but belong to God. God loves me.
To me, I depict it as it is like the relationship between a Shih Tzu dog following its owner. It is about companionship, walking together, loving, and spending time together.
I am constantly learning to open my heart and surrender to God as He is faithful and He cares for me. As I open my heart to God and let Him take the lead, the pain from my heart feels more relief.”
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