Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: The Weight of Expectations

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By Cao Yuhan (24S03M) and Ezann Lian (24S03H, Peer Helper)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.

“What should I do if my parents’ expectations are causing me great stress? Because they don’t seem to accept me for what I am, but are only concerned with how well I am doing in school.”

Stressed Scarlett

Dear Stressed Scarlett,

Many Rafflesians will likely relate to this situation of “never really being good enough”. No matter how late you stayed up to plan your essay, or how many hours you spent plugging away at the TYS papers, your efforts all seem to sum up to a percentage in  your report book. A lot of the time, the number is not good enough for your parents.

Regardless of  how much hard work we put into our academic pursuits, dread and fear still fill us when we realise we did not meet our parents’  expectations. It can often be an uphill battle, juggling between fulfilling other peoples’ demands of us and trying to find ourselves at the same time. 

You are not alone! We all feel the pressure because we value our commitments and the people who anticipate good results from us. There is no easy way to completely eradicate people’s expectations of you without completely burning that bridge. That said, you can control how you react to these expectations and manage them in a healthy way. 

Asian Parents’ Expectations

It is common for parents to have  extremely high expectations of their children, especially in Asian culture. The phrase “expecting (my) child to become ‘dragon’” is a Mandarin expression that describes parents wanting the best for their child, particularly the prosperity and greatness symbolised by the dragon.  With this hope of their child achieving great success in the future, it is unfortunately common for the child to feel stressed as they strive for excellence. 

Why is this a recurrent sight in Asian countries like Singapore compared to Western ones? Parents often want their children to have a secure future with a stable job and income. Moreover, with Singapore being a meritocratic society in which one’s efforts and results are highly valued, the expectations that parents have for their children have become significantly greater. 

Growing up in an environment where our parents have lofty goals for us naturally raises  our own expectations for ourselves as well, in fear of disappointing the people we love. Their expectations signal to us that we constantly need to put in more effort. This effort that is required from us not only drains our energy but also makes us feel inadequate and inferior to our peers at times.

In comparison, Western parenting tends to adopt a more lenient style, given their generally greater focus on individualism. Hence, encouraging independence and teaching the child to make their own decisions is valued in parenting, which means that many children do not feel as much pressure to live up to other people’s expectations. 

At the end of the day, our parents want the best for us. They wish to equip us with essential skills and knowledge that can help us thrive in society. However, their good intentions may sometimes do more harm than good.

Knowing Who You Are

It is important to remember that your grades and achievements do not define who you are, nor do they determine your worth or value. The amount of effort that you put in is far more significant than the results you get. While it might sound clichéd, the journey matters more than the destination;  if you are too focused on the destination, you may miss out on the beautiful scenery on the way there. 

Enjoy the process of working towards your goals, but do not beat yourself up if you are not seeing the results you like straight away. Remind yourself that working towards your dreams is a long but rewarding process, and that your aim should not be to please others, but to relish the wonderful feeling of fulfilling your dreams.

Knowing who you are and what you want in your teenage years is commendable. Be brave, work towards your goals and aspirations, and do not be afraid to fail. After all, we are still at an age where our falls are cushioned by the school environment we are in. 

Moving Forward 

If your parents’ expectations continue to bother you, you might want to communicate this effectively to them. Although daunting, it will be good for you to sit down for a chat with them and talk about your aspirations and the stress you may be facing in school. Make them aware of the plans you have for your future so they will know how to support you in this process.

The reason why you may feel that your parents don’t seem to accept who you are may be due to a lack of communication. Some parents are oblivious to their child’s career ambitions, as a result, they urge the child to constantly achieve perfect grades to guarantee a successful future. If you have set your heart on something, and have a plan tailored to your desires, make it known to the people around you!

Our advice is to try talking to them more regularly about your day-to-day life and your feelings too. As you practise this more, it will feel easier to approach your parents about issues you may be facing. When you are talking about difficult topics, find a good time and establish a few rules for more productive discussions, such as  not interrupting each other or only using kind words 

Secondly, it would be helpful to find a healthy coping mechanism to deal with stress. Everyone deals with stress differently, so do not be afraid to try out new activities. Who knows, it might just be the activity you are looking for! Some stress-relieving activities include painting, crocheting and even exercising. There are many other activities to help take your mind off the stress from your studies, so do spend some time to find out what works best for you.

Essentially, we are all working hard to achieve goals and dreams. However, it is crucial to ensure that the goals you are working towards are your goals and not anyone else’s. Focus on being you and make an effort to talk to your parents about the ideas you have in mind for your future. We hope our advice will help you cope with stress better. 

All the best!

Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website!

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