There are hard things about parenting. There’s the potty training and the bed wetting, the biting and the thumb sucking. There is the first day of school jitters and the uninvited birthday party. There’s the struggle to write and tie shoes and sit still and use a pencil. There’s manners and bed time and screen time and video games and the monitoring of phones and i pads and computers. There’s the neighbor’s cool scooter, and spring break trip to Hawaii and the latest $150 shoes -on sale, “Can I have that too?!” There’s the stress of academic achievement and the pressure to be in Honors this or in AP that. There’s the pressure to be. To be excellent. To be outstanding. To be the best.
Yes, there are hard things about parenting.
But the hardest thing of all is walking with your child through disappointment. Here’s an example: There are just so many spots on the travel baseball team. – And why exactly do we want this in the first place? – But we do! Because if you don’t sign your kid up for travel baseball, and all of the other parents do sign their kid up for travel baseball, then their kid plays five times more baseball than your kid and then your kid doesn’t have a chance at the next tryout, or at the school try out. So you suck in the air, write the check, fork over your time and put your kid out their to try out. And then you hold your breath, and wait for the email to come. The email arrives and says, “Sorry, please try next year.” And you have to go into your son’s room, sit on the bed and say, “You didn’t make it.” Whereby he walks out of the room and slams the door, and you sit there on his bed and wait until he comes back and lays his head in your lap, while he softly cries, but doesn’t want to talk about it. And then he gets up, wipes his eyes, and goes outside to play some more ball. And you sit there on his bed, take a deep breath, cry a little yourself and think, “Man, that hurt.”
It’s at that crystallized moment when parenting happens. How we as parents talk about disappointments, respond to the disappointment and move on from it, is what helps create a healthy person with strong self esteem, because life is full of disappointments and if we teach our kids that they were robbed or somehow entitled, we do them no favors. If we act like everything is o.k. and just pretend like we don’t care, we do them no favors. If we get mad, throw a fit, or try to persuade with money or power, we do them no favors.
My kids have had more disappointments than “achievements” the beginning of this school year. They have had visions of what they wanted to accomplish and where they wanted to be and they haven’t achieved those visions. So we have had to welcome disappointment to the table. Here is what we have learned. It’s important not to make disappointment bigger than it has to be. After all, it was just an audition and there will be many more auditions. It was just a tryout, and there will be other tryouts. So, we need to settle down and remember it’s not the end of the world. While disappointment has a voice at the table it does not get to be the only voice. So let’s not get too crazy.
On the other hand, it’s important to let disappointment have room to express itself. Name it. Cry. Stomp your fist. Shout. Give kid’s space to express disappointment. Here’s the kicker – make sure you aren’t crying, stomping, or shouting louder than they are. If your disappointment is bigger than their’s, then their disappointment loses power. So keep your ego in check. We can be disappointed for our kids, but we have to keep ourselves in check and ask the question: Are we living vicariously through our kid’s lives and thereby not letting our kid’s have their own story?
Disappointment is part of life. It’s the way it goes. But, building yourself up from a disappointment, getting out there and trying again, not letting the negative out way the positive, having fun, thinking about other kids and building empathy, not giving up, that is the building of some strong bones. Those bones will support them when life brings bigger disappointments, more life changing disappointments, when a job is lost or relationship breaks up. They will have the resilience to know that they will endure and persevere.
Lastly, I think the best thing I did for my kids this fall was empathize with them. I told them stories about when I was kid and tried out for a play and didn’t get the part I wanted. I had my sister, who played ball, call my son and share her baseball scars. We found stories almost by chance about achievers, people we admired who were had far more disappointments in their life than accolades and kept going. I let them know they were not the first kid in the world to have that feeling in their heart, and they will not will be the last. So when they see kids who are disappointed, they can empathize with them and be a better friend.
Then, when it was all over and we had cried, thought about what we learned from the experience, thought about how they could get better, or not, we moved on, changed the subject and told funny stories. We held each other a little tighter. And then we went out for ice cream.
It’s just the way it goes.