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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Disappointment is...well, disappointing

(this article appeared in the 4/5/11 edition of the Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

Disappointment is a funny thing. Despite your many attempts to ward it off it is an inevitable fact of life. And it sucks.

As a parent, it is one thing when I am disappointed, but when it happens to my kid – well, it feels like my heart is ripped from chest and smeared all over the floor.

Is it beneficial for parents to protect their children from disappointment? To what lengths should we go when our children are feeling disillusioned? Can an ice cream cone make it all better?

First, we must be very careful with our attitudes as they convey a hefty message to our children. What do our children learn if we behave like they are brightest, the best and the most deserved star of every show? Of course you think your child is fantastic but we must be cautious when registering for events. I think of all the moral characteristics we wish to instill in our children a sense of entitlement is not necessarily one of them.

Take being a part of a team for example. Do you tend to think your child should be the starter? Or could you consider that the point of playing sports is for exercise, developing muscle skills and learning team concepts? Parents who insult coaches for the sake of promoting their own child’s skills (or lack thereof) above the benefit of the team frustrates me.

The world is not going to cater to your child. I know you want it to and in a perfect world maybe it should. But let’s be realistic. Future bosses will probably not make grandiose exceptions for your child’s potential awesomeness. Instead they will have to work hard, clock in on time, overcome obstacles, frustrating personalities and even unfair circumstances in the real world. Are we preparing them for this type of future when we make today’s path smooth sailing?

Listen, I am an absolute softie. It kills me when my kids get their feelings hurt or worse, they are subject to unfair treatment. As much as it is within my power I try to treat my kids with respect and raise them in such a manner that they will excel and rise to the top of the class. But I know this won’t always be the case. I know there will be that teacher or that coach who will not love, challenge and serve my child as much as I think they should.

But rather than ward off those experiences, I want to – as hard as it is – to embrace them as learning opportunities for my children. My kid didn’t get the lead in the play. She has been embarrassed in front of her peers. He was benched last season. That one invitation never came. We’ve been ignored in the grocery store. A rude comment was made and they’ve been taunted on the playground.


God makes the life fertile by disappointments,
as he makes the ground fertile by frosts.
Henry Ward Beecher

How I deal with these moments, I believe, are imperative to raising healthy, happy, well adjusted adults. In moments of injustice I never pat my kid on the head and buy them a new toy. I don’t want to pretend something bad didn’t happen. Nor do I don’t want to convey that a gift makes everything better. I actually allow my kids to feel the weight of disappointment. Believe me, it hurts very much. Sometimes we even cry together.

Clearly, my goal is not to protect my kids from every sad thing in life. Instead if they grow up understanding what disappointment and unfair treatment feels like it may make them better people. I hope to raise children who grow into adults that will be sensitive, will fight against cruelty and can identify when a loved one is hurting.

Maybe I’m off on this one. I do tend to be a bit na├»ve. What I know is this - I will not trivialize my child’s pain with a trip to Dairy Queen. Why? Because I’m my kid’s mom and I said so! That’s why!

Stephanie is a Parent Educator and mother of 5 children. She can be reached at ssikorski@mr238

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