The harsh reality of being the golden child

Being the Golden child means constantly living up to unobtainable expectations. The question is: how do these expectations affect our livelihood?


Sarabeth Wester

Being the golden child feels as though there are a million things trying to pull you down. Expectations from yourself and others can completely derail your sense of self.

Imagine a pedestal placed beyond that of human reach and shielded against human emotion. On the ledge lies a child– a golden child. This golden child lives their life to please others; they are made out of gold to show to the world that they are a trophy. The child lies on their pedestal hoping to god it is not lowered, for if it was, consequences arise. Consequences that leave cracks. Slowly, the cracks spread till the protective shield is breached, letting reality bleed through.

Hi– I’m Alex and this is my reality.

Since I was young, my parents have known me to be great– no– perfect. These expectations didn’t just fall from the sky; they were handcrafted by me. I strived for perfection, I put all my effort into being successful— I am the one who put me on a pedestal.

The issue is, the pedestal is mine. I’m the one who should control if it’s lowered or raised. I’m the only one who should have a say in my “goldness.” For kids like me, the reality is: we aren’t in control. We aren’t the only ones who lower our pedestals. Parents need to realize that “golden children ” have these expectations set for themselves. We smile when we do good and cry when we do bad. We don’t need additional deprecation.

As a result of all of my actions, my parents’ perception of me became plated with golden enamel. Since becoming golden, they have expected nothing less than perfect. Younger me loved it, I lived up to and exceeded every expectation, but since high school, all I have been is a let down. It feels as though nothing I do is good enough for my parents.

Become class president, easy. Have above a 4.1, easy. Rehearse for theater productions, everynight for three hours, easy. To most people reading this it may sound like I’m bragging or trying to get sympathy for my issues, but what I’m trying to depict is the idea of never living up to the expectations you created early on. All my accomplishments are pointless to my parents; they are merely integers in one big equation. What they fail to enter in the equation is my mental health.

These cracks not only lead me to a harmful mindset, they also jeopardize our relationship. So, in order to try and repair my cracks, I do it again: I put my all into everything I do. But now, once I put my everything into school, performing, and relationships, I have nothing left for me. Meaning at the end of the day, I’m left with this empty, burnout feeling.

Being in a school environment is a constant battle for the golden child. Teachers have the intent of making everything a learning experience, even tests. This can cause countless problems for anyone who shares my position because our families don’t see school as a place of learning, instead they see it as a place to show your perfection. Tests are something that should be perfect, they aren’t to see what you need to learn, they are assessments to show to the world you’re perfectly golden.

When I underperform, it feels as if I’m losing myself. I feel like I don’t know myself anymore. My self image becomes a mirror and the reflected image is scary. I’m scared that this image will change the way my parents think of me because as much as being on the pedestal hurts, it’s all I’ve ever known.

I know that all of us golden children just want to make our parents proud. As much as we hate to say it, especially the more rebellious of us, we care what our parents think. After all, the reason we started acting golden was to impress our parents.

Looking back on my childhood, I noticed it feels like I was almost trained. If any one reading this has had a dog, you know how to reward good behavior. You give them a treat or simply say “good boy” when they perform right. Well, parents have a way of training children, they put our tests with the big letter “A” on the fridge, and tell us how proud they are. Parents also compare their kids like they are comparing fantasy football teams. They look at each player’s, or in this case, kids stats and determine who has a better chance of getting into college. This creates a sense of fear for the children; we don’t want to be the loser, or the lesser of the kids so we do what we can to be the best.

Our families don’t see school as a place of learning, instead they see it as a place to show your perfection.”

— Alex McLemore

The mental effects of this dynamic can reach into our adult years. Depression, self-loathing, and identity crisis are all side effects of this “golden child syndrome.” Mindbodygreen, a wellness resource, said “A golden child’s sense of self-worth is directly linked to their ability to please and their external achievements as an adult, they are likely to feel that they must present a perfect image of themselves to earn others’ approval and love.”

We golden children end up hating ourselves for underperforming in our parents eyes. Parents think they need to voice their concerns on our underperforming by offering “if only” clauses. “If only you didn’t have rehearsal last night you would have had more time to study,” or “If only you’d had time to double check your ICW, maybe you would have caught your mistakes.” My life has been plagued by these clauses and I don’t need them, because trust me when I say— I generate my own.

Remember, these expectations were originally ours. I hold myself to higher expectations than anyone, but now there’s all this extra pressure that I can’t control. I beat myself up in my mind until I’m black and blue, but I know I really did give it my everything. Parents don’t know everything that goes on behind the closed doors of our psyche.

To all the parents, even my own— please realize you can’t hold up our pedestal, we need to uphold the pedestal for ourselves. We know when we disappoint because 9 times out of 10, we disappoint ourselves in the process.

Golden children should be a trophy for ourselves. We must start to work for ourselves and learn to be proud of every facet of us– even our mistakes. We need to reclaim our accomplishments and live only for ourselves. This is the way we reinvent our pedestal.