Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Growing up, my sister and I always knew we were going to college, the only question was where.  I have passed this same educational expectation to my children.  I always knew that my mother’s expectations were high, but recently I found out that my mother’s expectations probably had an impact on how I turned out.  

A recent study,  “Ambitious mothers - successful daughters: Mothers' early expectations for children's education and children's earnings and sense of control in adult life,” by Eirini Flouri and Denise Hawkins (British Journal of Educational Psychology, September 2008) concludes that “mothers’ expectations for their children’s education were related to children’s positive adult outcomes.”  It noted that mothers’ high expectations were related to their daughters’ gaining a “sense of control in adult life.”  But the finding was gender-specific.  “Mothers’ expectations had no impact on sons’ adult outcomes,” it concluded.

The study included 1,520 men and 1,765 women who are part of the 1970 British Cohort Study, which tracked children from birth through 30 years of age, contacting them at various points in their lives.

Just yesterday, a friend told me about her grandmother who, at 83 still retains high expectations for her children and grandchildren, and lets them know it.  “She’s always been so hard on everyone,” said my friend, a 30-something-year-old woman who still wanted to please her grandmother.

Expectations affect human performance.  As much as we might like to think that we, as individuals, are unaffected by others, the fact is that we are swayed by others’ expectations just as certainly as others are affected by our expectations of them. 

The paper referenced previous studies, which indicated children whose mothers have high expectations for them learn to turn challenging situations “into growth-inducing” experiences.  Also, “low maternal expectations for children’s coping are related to over-protective parenting which predicts children’s anxious behavior .... and...low attainments.”

In other words, being challenged by those who believe that we are capable of doing more often leads to improved performance.  

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.