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What Should We Tell Our Sons?

by Harinder Ghatora Mental Wellbeing Emotional Wellbeing Healthy Relationships


If there is one message that any young man who would like to feel happy, healthy and content needs to internalise, it is to let go of other people’s expectations.

As parents it is often our expectations of our sons that have the potential to cause them the most harm.

Young men are bombarded with “You should…” messages from an early age.

These messages are always well-intentioned, and can include expectations on their behaviour, friendships, academic achievement, relationships, career choices and social activities.

A parent would argue: “Young people need guidance, support and boundaries. They need to be told what to do and how to behave.” I would agree, but I believe that the balance of power between some parents and their sons needs a serious rethink.

For some young men this imbalance leads to frustration, resentment and feelings of powerlessness and despair.

Whenever we tell someone they ‘should’ do something, we impose our beliefs onto them. We take the stance that we know better. We do not consider where the other person is coming from: we ignore their feelings, wishes and desires. We also turn a blind eye to the challenges that the other person may be facing.

When it comes to our sons, if we project our wishes onto them firmly, consistently and over a long period of time, they start to internalise them.

And, in an attempt to win our approval, they begin to judge themselves by our expectations of them.

Sadly, more often than not, these expectations are unrealistic and sometimes, simply unachievable.

The idealistic view of life that some parents project onto their sons include expecting them to be:

  • perfectly behaved at all times;
  • physically and mentally strong and resilient;
  • academically excellent;
  • a member of a respected profession;
  • a high earner;
  • married to someone who is loved and adored by the whole family;
  • a parent of perfect children;
  • living in a beautiful house;
  • driving a big car;
  • independent;
  • confident;
  • competitive;
  • and, of course, always happy.

How many men do you actually know who live such a perfect life?

I don’t know any.

Unfortunately, many young men carry this sort of idea of how their life should be because that is what others have projected onto them.

This leaves them in a no-win situation.

They initially try to do their best, but won’t always be able to live up to these high expectations.

They then begin to feel bad about themselves, which negatively affects their sense of self and erodes their self-esteem.

Persistent feelings of inadequacy and imperfection lead to frustration and unhappiness, and for some young men this results in “acting out” behaviours such as excessive drinking, drug taking, anti-social behaviour or mental health issues such as anxiety and/or depression.

So what can we, as parents, do?

Firstly, we can stop our sons ever entering the ‘land of should’ by being mindful of what we are projecting onto at them with regard to our expectations.

  • We can let go of our perfectionist ideals and instead listen to what our sons actually want.

  • We can encourage them to identify and articulate their own thoughts and feelings.

  • We can help them to express their needs and wishes.

  • We can notice and praise the special qualities that they possess.

  • And, above all else, we can love and validate them as unique individuals.

Also, as parents, we can do our future daughter-in-laws and grandchildren a huge favour by raising emotionally intelligent, resilient, happy young men who feel good about themselves and their life; young men who have the courage to be themselves, especially when the world is constantly trying to make them be someone else.

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