Parenting is all about investment. You put time, love and most of your wages into your genetic inheritance in the fuzzy expectation of some kind of bragging rights later on.
As the late comedian Robin Williams put it, when you first hold your child you have two visions: "The first is your child, as an adult, saying, 'I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.' The other is, 'You want fries with that?'"
We all know which one we want.
But, of course, life has a habit of throwing us curveballs. And sometimes our children are simply not what we ordered.
"What am I disappointed about? A lot of things," says one mother with a 17-year-old daughter, who, like most parents I spoke to, didn't want to be named — expressing anything other than delight in your children seems treacherous. "I don't feel great about saying this, but it's the truth," she continues.
"It's not even her academic failures. I got over that ages ago. It's her lack of focus. Right now she is holed up in her room and only comes out for a cigarette. That's what makes me despair. What is she doing with her life? I just wish she was passionate about something — music, art, going on marches, climbing mountains, literally anything. I'd be thrilled for the tiniest crumb."
As the saying goes, today's expectations are tomorrow's disappointments.
Fast-forward a decade or two from the maternity unit and almost anything can be a let-down for parents. Their child is too boisterous, too cheeky or too lazy. It may be that, unlike you, they're bad at sport. Or you're frustrated that they have chosen a creative career — or, indeed, not chosen a creative career.
One parent I spoke to, from a working-class background, lamented her children's aversion to the arts.
"Growing up in a family where the idea of a good read was Wilbur Smith, I fought really hard for a cultural life," she says. "But despite all my efforts, my teenage children aren't interested in music, in art, in theatre, in anything apart from trash TV like Love Island, and that's a huge disappointment."
Another mother was "broken-hearted" at her 17-year-old daughter's indifference to a having career. "All she's interested in is lip gloss, skimpy clothes and social media. Her ambition is to marry someone loaded. I despair of her, honestly."
Suzie Hayman, a relationship counsellor, says: "We have tremendous expectations of our children to do something for us. We also have expectations of ourselves to be the perfect parent and, therefore, to have the perfect child.'
Those expectations have always been around — the idea that, say, doctors want their children to be doctors. In previous generations, of course, the parent/child bargain was simple: children were an economic asset, and the more you had, the more hands there were to toil in the fields.
As sociologist Viviana Zelizer has pointed out, when school, rather than actual labour, became a child's work, the equation changed dramatically: children became "economically worthless but emotionally priceless". And many of today's parents often feel they get little return for their investment bar a massive phone bill and a few grunts.
But expectations have ramped up anyway. Partly this is due to the shrinking of the extended family (when I was growing up you brought shame on the "family", not on your parents). Now, smaller nuclear units mean that more weight — and reflected glory — lies with parents. Therapists often see greater expectations from mothers who shift their focus from their careers to bringing up children — and so, there is more pressure for the children to "turn out well".
Therapists agree that most problems with children start in their teens or early 20s, and many get through this sticky patch to emerge as more or less what we wanted — give or take a few tattoos. Separating, or even rebelling, is a normal stage of development for teens.
"Parents often have a fantasy and the children don't match up," says Hayman. "They haven't allowed for the fact that the child is a person in his or her own right."
Undoubtedly, some parents see their children as an easy route to satisfying their own unrealised ambitions (think the classic stage-school mother). One step further is the narcissistic parent — self-obsessed, with a sense of entitlement — whose child can be treated as a "narcissistic extension", existing only to conform to their desires. And make no mistake: being on the sharp end of parental disappointment is painful.
Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree, a doorstep-sized look at families whose children are, say, disabled, deaf, transgender, gay or a product of rape, and who really challenge expectations, says: "We long for what is life's most profound compliment: their choosing to live according to our own system of values." When that doesn't pan out, many parents feel ashamed to admit their feelings, even to themselves.
The irony is that most parents will say that, above all, they want their children to be happy, but then have serious misgivings when they follow their own path to get there. Obviously, nobody wants their child to be a heavy dope smoker or go through a divorce.
Maybe your child won't be called to the Bar, but they can still have wonderful qualities.
The key, however hard, is to try to accept — and even appreciate — what you have been given. No one said that having children would be easy.