High expectations + unconditional love

I consider myself an odd combination of a parenting novice and parenting expert.

My son is 18 months old, and I’m the first to admit that in spite of all the books, websites, and other sources of supposed parenting expertise that my wife and I have consumed since we learned he was on the way, every day, I’m reminded that I have no idea what I’m doing. Almost everything that works with one child may have the direct opposite effect with another. And anybody who tells you that they’ve figured it all out is fooling themselves. Welcome to the new parenting club.

But I have worked with hundreds of teenagers and their parents in the 17 years since I started Collegewise. I’ve noticed which kids seem the happiest and most balanced. I’ve noticed which parents seem to find more joy than frustration as the parents of teenagers. And I’ve noticed which families seem to have the best relationship with each other.

Almost without fail, they were the families with parents who combined high expectations with unconditional love.

They didn’t necessarily expect their kids to be perfect—their high expectations focused more on effort and character than on the outcomes. They appreciated their kids’ strengths and accepted their weaknesses. But while the expectations were clearly in place, there was never a time when one of their kids felt like their parents’ love was predicated on GPAs, test scores, or admission to any particular college.

I expect that when my son is a teenager, I’ll find that striking this balance—like just about all aspects of parenting—is much easier to say (or to share on a blog) than it is to pull off. If it were that easy and that universally effective, everyone would be doing it.

But if you’d like to see this concept of high expectations combined with unconditional love explained succinctly (with a visual aid), check out author Dan Pink’s new two-minute video featuring a tidbit from frequently-featured-here psychologist Angela Duckworth.

You may not get the balance right all the time. But it’s nice to know what to shoot for. And my statistical sample says that this is a parenting approach that (usually) works.