Are Strict Parents Helping Or Hurting Their Children’s Future?

In “Please Believe In The Man I May Become,” a Yakezie Writing Contest finalist writes about his frustration with his critical father who expects nothing short of excellence. The post has great structure and engenders empathy even though the writer’s family is wealthy.

The essay reminds me a little of my own upbringing. Although not as harsh, my father expected me to do well in school.  I remember one afternoon proudly showing him a 95% score on a difficult exam I spent ages studying for.  His response was, “What happened to the other 5%?” I felt deflated because I worked so hard.  All I wanted was a high-five and perhaps a trip to the park where we could play catch afterward.

My father’s tone wasn’t deleterious in intent. Rather, his response was halcyon with a hint of sarcasm. Regardless, I was disappointed and lost the urge to study hard for that little while. After I got over my self pity, I decided I would no longer boast to my parents about any good grades I got in school. It was hard because I ended up getting A’s for the remaining two years of high school. All I ever wanted was to make them proud. Grades and sports at that time were the main ways I could show how.

What If….

If my parents didn’t have high expectations of me growing up, I’m not sure whether or not my own expectations would be high enough for my standards now. I didn’t grow up poor, so I wasn’t constantly motivated by the desire to “get out of this town” or lift myself out of poverty. But, I wasn’t in a bubble either because I lived in third world countries growing up and saw poverty all around.

I was afraid of ending up poor. I wanted shoes to walk in and clean t-shirts to wear. I couldn’t stand seeing the faces of young mothers begging at the stoplight with their babies. With fear came motivation not to mess around in school so I could have as many options as possible when I graduated. Even if my parents weren’t strict, I think I would kick my own ass.

The lingering effect of my parent’s high expectations is that I constantly feel reluctant to share big wins in my life for fear of disappointment or the perception of pomposity. After all, for 20 years I’ve had this memory of my father’s response to my test score. As a result, I do shoot for 100% in many of the things I do. However, seldom do I ever achieve 100%.  At least by shooting for excellence, I sometimes achieve a 90-95%.

Imagine wanting to work hard but never being given the chance? My parent’s discipline helped me not drown in a competitive world when I went out on my own. I didn’t like their disciplinary ways then, but I sincerely appreciate it now that I have nobody to depend on but myself.

How About Now…

I’ve spent a lot of time with my father recently thanks to recent vacations and our collaboration on my book about how to profitably quit your job. Just think about the nice long philosophical discussions we’ve had about whether or not I should take the leap!  Because he was so critical of my writing growing up, I asked him to be one of the editors.  After all, I wanted the book to be error-free and as criticized as much as possible before selling it to the public!

Of course he obliged. And in the end, I got my dad to put in around 15 hours of free labor for his son! Yes! The key to criticism by a loved one is utilizing their criticism to let them produce a work they deem acceptable. It’s all about moving around the Yin and the Yang. Like using your opponents force in Judo for your own benefit. Thanks again dad!

Nowadays, I get back at my father by poking fun at him for duck hooking a drive or going all-in with pocket jacks when it’s obvious he’s beat. Ribbing each other is what men do, and in retrospect, that is what my father was doing when he asked where the other 5% of my test score went. I just wasn’t mature enough at the time to rib him back.

Readers, do you have parents with high expectations? Were your parents ever really strict?  Did their strictness help or hurt you in the end?



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  1. says

    Nice post Sam! It’s hard to say how I would have turned out if my parents were super strict. They were mostly easy going but they definitely pushed me in extra curriculars and doing all of my homework.

    Balance is important, and it’s hard to quantify. Children need discipline, but they also need a lot of encouragement and positive reinforcement to build up their confidence and to keep them motivated.

    I think I would have rebelled a lot more if my parents were stricter on me, which could have had some really bad consequences. I have a feeling I could be a total softy if I have kids and a lot of that could be because of what I experienced growing up.

    • says

      Hi Sydney,

      I can totally see you being a total softy! :) It’s true we bring what our parents taught us, or their mannerisms into our own lives and probably the lives of our children.

      Maybe good mom cop bad dad cop yeah?

      I was pretty naughty as a kid, so I needed the disciplinarian action. I’m afraid I would have got in HUGE trouble if I didn’t have strict parents. So for that, I thank them!


  2. says

    This brings back memories I tried to forget! I remember my parents having high expectations, but no encouragement. I do not recall any positive statements ever expressed to me. Instead, my mother would tell everyone else how good I was. I suppose I could have turned out differently, but I reacted to the situation by working harder. Perhaps to receive some of those positive statement!

    I made sure my children were encouraged at everything they did and it paid off very well with a much better relationship. Being strict can be loving and encouraging too..

    • says

      Encouragement is so important, especially after failure. If your parents were very encouraging though, do you think there’s a chance you would have worked less hard?

      Good job on your own children!

  3. Lance@MoneyLife&More says

    My parents had high expectations but I think it helped me turn out well. They were never disappoint as long as I tried my hardest though. I do wonder how I would have ended up if they didn’t push me. Guess I’ll never know!

  4. Edward Antrobus says

    I’d say my parents were relatively strict but not strict enough. A’s and B’s came very easily for me so it looked like was I was trying without really pushing myself. The only subject I ever studied for in elementary school was spelling. The only time I studied in high school was when there was a group study session. Maybe if I had been pushed to turn those B’s into A’s and A’s into A+’s, I would have actually applied myself and not been so lost when I got to college and DID have to apply myself.

    • says

      Interesting perspective Edward. I guess if I were to choose, I’d rather have strict parents who pushed me up until I was 18 rather than parents who didn’t and let me do as I pleased. As kids, we need that extra push because it is the foundation that we will build on for the rest of our lives.

  5. eemusings says

    Thought provoking post.

    As I wrote a few months ago ( I had parents who, while they weren’t as strict as some of the other Asian parents I knew, were definitely not western in their approach. And this chafed. I’ll admit I didn’t deal with it in the best way I could have – I was no model child – but it was definitely, I think, a case of differing opinions on what kind of teenagehood I should have. I’m the kind of person that would have done well either way, being reasonably driven and reasonably intelligent, and I definitely think my parents were too harsh on me (and they’ve loosened up on my younger brother, but they always were softer on him(.

    I think it’s great that you and your dad found a way to turn his critical opinions to help you.

  6. says

    My dad couldn’t care less, and my mom didn’t have overly high expectations. My brother was a bit of a nightmare, and didn’t even graduate high school, so I don’t suppose that she COULD have very high expectations of me being that he failed so badly (haha). I turned out fine, and am even more responsible and successful at my age than most of my friends.

    • says

      Good to hear your parents didn’t care much and you turned out fine! A case for Nurture!

      Although, I do wonder if your brother will start hating your parents in 10 years time for not caring enough.

  7. says

    My parents were both strict and lacksadaisical. Their strictness made me rebel and move out by 18, but their lack of pushing me in a given direction made me unsure of what I wanted to do. Of course, this wasn’t entirely their fault. But it was never, “Oh, you’re going to college.” No. It was more, “Oh, you’re going to get married and have children because you’re a girl.” So old fashioned!

    • says

      Gotcha. I hear the same thing now from my male friend who has three daughters. He just wants his daughters to be married and marry someone!

      BTW, I moved out by 18 too! College was fun!

  8. TB at BlueCollarWorkman says

    Man, my dad judged me relentlessly and negatively all the time. I just couldn’t ever stack up. I remember trying to do so many nice things for him to make him proud or htink I was capable and I just couldn’t please him. I tried well into adult hood to make him proud and never acheived it. It was only a couple years ago that I finally gave up. And life has been better!I’ve got a wife and kids to take care of, I don’t need to worry about hwat he thinks anymore. And actually, I work hard to let my kids know that I am proud of them.

  9. says

    I can definitely relate to your situation. My parents weren’t exactly the crazy type that gave us no choice but to get straight A’s, but I have gotten the same, classic response of “where is the remaining 5%” also. (yeah, very funny, dad, NOT.) They sort of have this laid back attitude where they would like to see us do well and compare us to other kids that are “better” than us and say “well, ya know, what are you gonna do about it..” They are supportive of whatever I do and actually don’t even mind at all what I want to do with myself, as long as I support myself somehow in the future, but I’m not sure exactly where their confident level lies regarding my success. The attitude of my parents really motivates me to prove myself not only for me, but to them. However, my motivation is something that I believe stems from within myself as well. My sister doesn’t let my parents’ attitude affect her since they are not very strongly felt, but works to lead a decent life because simply because she would be fine that way and so would my parents.

  10. Jayden says

    HI GUYS,

    When I was younger I was a relatively bright kid but I wasn’t focused on one major thing. I was articulate and was really into my sports, however, when I was getting older my parents put their foot down and started to force me to spend more time revising. I was one of those cool kids but was clever when needed to be for exams. I had done extremely well due to them being strict. Also I think that being too strict right from the beginning can just make a child feel left out in some ways… E.g I was never allowed to go to my local park by myself in clear daylight until I was 11 years old. My father wouldn’t let me go with my friends to the shops until I was 12… stuff like that can make you feel down in the dumps. Now reflecting back the reason why they didn’t let me go was due to so many sports. Additionally, looking back where are those people now, they’re no-where. Parents protect you for a reason so that they can see you become something to the absolute best of your abilities. One day you’ll have to do the same…

    • says

      Parents can definitely get really protective and a lot of times they can’t explain to their kids “why” because the reasons aren’t easy to explain and they don’t want to scare their kids either. The times when my parents didn’t let me do something and they sat me down and went over all the reasons why were much easier to swallow. Whenever they just said no without any explanation at all I’d get super mad and made me want to break their rules. But a lot of things are just hard to understand as a kid even with lengthy explanations!

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