The original title of this week’s Mom’s School was: The gifts we get when life doesn’t go the way we hoped. I could list a whole bunch of gifts I’ve received: an open mind, an open heart, transformed ways of thinking, more awareness about people’s needs, a more compassionate heart, a focus on what matters and the list goes on. We all have things we’ve learned. You have a list too, I’m sure.
What is the core of all of this struggle, grit, frustration, and then hopefully transformation? It is disappointment. When we are deeply disappointed by life, we find ourselves in a space we never imagined we’d be. We feel bewildered. Our expectations have been dashed. I don't know about you, but I’ve walked around for many days saying to myself, “What the heck, how did I get here?" I know you’ve been here too.
Learning to deal with disappointment requires a lot of hard work. We hope for, expect, plan for things in our lives. When these hopes are dashed, it feels horribly unfair. We may even feel abandoned. There is no doubt that everyone faces deep disappointment at some point in their life. How can we teach our kids to face this inevitable circumstance and learn and grow through it?
Last week I took my boys mini-golfing. When we arrived, we learned there was only one course that was stroller/wheelchair accessible. Since Bodey was in tow, that was our only option. Of course, it wasn’t the cool course. My boys were kind of bummed, but they adjusted.
After golfing we went to the arcade. They each received a card loaded with points to use for their games. Also loaded on the card were “tickets” won after playing the game and redeemable for prizes. Once Blake and Chase finished playing the games, they went to turn in the tickets. For some reason, Chase’s card did not load with tickets. Blake ended up with 68 tickets and Chase had 9.
Once we started to walk to the car, Chase, my spirited boy, threw a pretty good tantrum. He threw his card, he hit Blake and stared running in the opposite direction. Here I was pushing Bodey and I couldn’t easily run after my six-year-old. I felt the anger building. All I could think was, “how ungrateful! I came here to do something fun and he’s out of his mind about silly tickets?”. So I started yelling. Eventually he ran back towards me and we got to the car.
After I put everyone in the car, I was on the verge of a lecture about being grateful and appropriate behavior. But for some reason, it came to me to ask Chase if he was just disappointed. So I did. Immediately, he quieted down and said, “yes, and it’s unfair that Blake got the tickets and I didn’t”. So we talked about what it’s like to be disappointed. How we feel, what happens inside of us, how we can fill with rage and just want to scream and yell.
I asked them if they thought I was ever disappointed.
They responded, "yes".
We talked about Bodey and Ethan.
Life feels unfair, sometimes often. Disappointment feels like a generous term for the really horrible things that happen. We feel downright despair and rage. Those are real, appropriate feelings for the grievous things that happen in our lives.
What about our kids?
How do we teach our kids to deal with the little disappointments?
We know they are certain to experience the big ones.
Despite what our culture preaches, there are not quick fixes and anything that sustains us involves intense work, struggle and commitment. Here's some steps I'm using with my boys to talk about disappointment. I try to use them for myself too.
1. Acknowledge the disappointment. I know I feel better if I can just say out loud, “this feels unfair”. And then to have someone affirm that, yes it really is. Do the same for your kids. I’m not saying we are okay with the tantrums, but recognize their source. Talk about what disappointment feels like. Think about your own feelings of disappointment and how you act out. Next time disappointment comes, help your kids acknowledge “I’m feeling disappointed now”.
2. Scream and yell. Yes, sometimes we have to. It’s appropriate when life really throws us a curve. There are ways we can let it all out. Run, work out, dance, write, cook, go for a long drive. You know what works for you. For them it might look like screaming and yelling. It might look like slamming the door to their room. It might look like refusing to listen or eat dinner. Help them find healthy ways to get it out.
3. Decide what to do about it. Once we’ve gotten it out, we have to decide how to respond. If we don’t, then we’ll just be overtaken by our disappointment turned anger and rage. Same with your kids. Whether it’s figuring out how to deal with not making the team, loosing tickets or not getting the grade they wanted, help them make a plan. What are we going to do different next time? What can we feasibly change? What will we do next time we are feeling this way?
As I’ve written these past five weeks, it’s become clear to me that we cannot expect things of our kids that we do not expect of ourselves. We as parents have to do our own work. We have to model what we want them to do. That’s what makes parenting one of the most challenging jobs we’ll ever have.
Next week is the final week of Mom’s School. I’m going to write about how I talk with my kids about God and prayer. Ethan’s illness and death, Bodey’s illness and so many things in between have invited me to relook at who God is to me, what I believe, what brings peace to my heart and what role prayer plays in my life. I keep learning and evolving. I hope I always will. I hope by sharing my heart, your heart will be spurred to share yours with your kids too.
P.S. Yes, you are receiving this on Monday morning instead of Sunday. I had the gift of spending the weekend with my family in Ohio this weekend hosting a wedding shower for my brother John Mark and his fiancé Christy. It’s so rare that I’m in the same place as all of my siblings and my parents. I consider those moments truly great gifts.
Have a great week :-)