I can remember when my college advisor and economic professor met my parents. He told them, within my earshot, that I was using six cylinders when he was certain that I had eight. His purpose was not to belittle or make fun of my performance, but to let me know that I could do more and that he expected me to perform at a higher level. After taking extra classes and dropping credits that were pulling my grade point average down, I graduated cum laude. He believed I was able to perform better and, believing his assessment, I worked harder.
When others believe that we are not capable, sometimes we are able to rise and overcome their expectations, determined to prove that we can. Just a few years ago, I mentioned an idea to friends who laughed at it and told me I couldn’t do it. Determined to prove them wrong, I persevered and completed a successful project. In this instance, my motivation was to prove them wrong.
At other times, we may decide that others are right, we are not capable of completing the task at hand, or that our actions will not change their beliefs. Either belief can lead to subpar performance and disengagement. After all, why try if we have already been determined to be a failure, and why try if our actions will not affect their beliefs? A boss once told me, “Others might think you’ve failed.” While his intent might have been to motivate me to action, it instead led me to conclude that other people’s opinions were not tied to my actions, which led me to give up. Maybe I could have improved, maybe not - but why try if they have already made up their minds?
The study concludes with the note that “only experimental studies manipulating maternal expectations will be able to address the issue of causality.” So while the study determined that mothers’ expectations had an impact on their daughters’ adult lives, it did not revel the cause. Maybe the way to prepare our daughters for their lives ahead is simply to raise our expectations, and to communicate them in a way that challenges our daughters while conveying the underlying message that we know they have the ability and that their actions can affect the outcome.
As for a mother’s impact on a son’s life, I am not willing to concede that my expectations will not have an impact - I’m going to raise the bar for him as well, and I know he will rise to the occasion.