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Disappointing your parents

A Tweet by Gin has been popping up in various autism groups on Facebook. I also want to share it, because I think it’s an important message, perhaps in particular in relation to autistic people.

I wouldn’t say we definitely didn’t disappoint our parents—we might have. But should we live up to our parents’ expectations?

Mismatch of expectations

It’s crucial that parents’ expectations make sense in relation to the child—and arguably also to the child, within reason. If there is no connection between parents’ expectations and the abilities, interests, and idiosyncrasies of the child, then the risk is that:

  • The child tries to meet the parents’ expectations, and ends up living for someone else’s benefit. It is not sustainable.
  • The child grows up feeling like they lack worth or they just feel alien, as they are unable to live up to other people’s expectations.
  • The child grows up thinking you ought to live up to other people’s expectations, thus making their value dependent on external factors.
  • The child grows up internalizing your judgments, leading to self-judgment and self-criticism.

None of this is sustainable, and you will be crushed under the weight of things if you try and continually fail to meet your parents’ expectations.

Research from 2005 shows that performance expectations from parents and other social expectations, combined with a negative attachment orientation, leads to maladaptive perfectionism.[1]Parental/Social Influences on Perfectionism and Adult Attachment Orientations (Rice, Lopez, & Vergara, 2005) A different study from the same year showed that self-criticism is a significant predictor of:[2]Specific perfectionism components versus self-criticism in predicting maladjustment (Dunkley, Zuroff, & Blankstein, 2005)

For more information on—and my own experience with—self-critical perfectionism, read my post below.


Disappointing parents

So if you feel you have disappointed your parents, do try to let go of the notion that it matters. I understand we want to please the people we look up to, and we want them to approve of us. But long-term you are going to feel a lot better if you live on your own terms.

If you are a parent and you have a lot of expectations of your child, do consider whether those expectations are actually a good match for your child. Note that there is nothing wrong with having expectations per se, although the inherent risk of expectations is that they make us unhappy when they aren’t met. Expectations can also make others dependant on your validation. So for the sake of your wellbeing as well as your child’s, it is crucial how you manage your expectations.

Also have a look at:

Nurturing autistic children

I am not a parent myself—just a child. If you are a parent, I would love to know what you think, and how you deal with having expectations that don’t match your child’s interests and capabilities. I can imagine that is difficult to deal with as well.


Avoidance coping, Disappointment, Expectations, Negative affectivity, Parenting, Perfectionism, Positive affectivity, Psychological stress, Self-critical perfectionism, Self-judgment, Social support

Martin Silvertant

Martin Silvertant

Co-founder of Embrace ASD, autism researcher, writer, ironically silver award-winning graphic designer, and type designer. I am also autistic, and I fight dodecahedragons during sleep onset.

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