Teaching My Kids About Disappointment By Example

Disappointment
Parents dread that inevitable day when their children face disappointment for the first time. We all know it’s coming, and we’ve all dealt with it too many times to count during our own lifetimes. All we can directly do is encourage and comfort them when it does happen, and to show them how to handle disappointment in a healthy way. One of the best ways to teach our children anything is to lead by example; show them how to respond to adversity by handling our own disappointments well. Teach them how to persevere when they don’t achieve their goals by doing the same thing ourselves. It dawned on me this week that in order to show them how to handle disappointments, I have to be able to admit to them that I personally endure that aching sensation of loss and feelings of inadequacy. In order for them to continue to trust me as they grow more independent, my children need to be able to relate to me and know that I’m not above being jealous or coveting the accomplishments of others… that life picks me up and throws me down quite a bit.

Over the years I have learned how to genuinely be happy for others in their successes, to be happy with my own achievements, and not dwell on what I DON’T have. I repeatedly emphasize this perspective to my kids when they are complaining about someone getting a toy they want, or one of their siblings getting to go on an adventure without the others, but for the most part it’s come from a place within me that says “I’ve been there” rather than one saying “This still happens to me. I still go through this.”. They need to know that disappointments aren’t something outgrow, rather they’re something you grow FROM by working through them. I’ve been good at keeping professional disappointments to myself… its ingrained in me that publicly acknowledging a let-down is a sign of weakness, and that falling short of a goal is an outright failure. Time and experience have taught me otherwise, but it’s still second nature for me to conceal disappointment.

Last month something happened in the writing world that hit me like a ton of bricks. Not being asked to be a part of something normally doesn’t bother me too much… I have too many irons in the fire as it is at present, but I felt more jealousy and irritation over this situation than I have felt in YEARS. The fact that I felt so strongly about this embarrassed me… I felt like a kid that wasn’t good enough to be invited to a party, when logically I know that it’s not true. Initially I didn’t say anything to ANYONE about how I felt because it embarrassed me to my core. Then it dawned on me… I pride myself on being authentic and honest with others, especially my kids, and that I needed to let them see me working through this situation. I may hide from everyone when I’m battling a bad depressive period, but I do my best to be honest about it when I emerge from the fog and I can handle talking again… Why is it so difficult to admit disappointment?

I decided to casually bring it up to the boys while they were working on their math during our homeschooling “table time”, and told them about the situation that had affected me so deeply, and how it made me feel. They were interested in hearing about why I wanted to be a part of the project, and attempted to comfort me. After encouraging me to keep trying, they wanted to know if they could talk to the people in charge to lobby on my behalf. I thanked them and assured them that I would keep writing, and that I appreciated their caring hearts. It made me realize that not am I teaching them that it’s okay to be disappointed even when they are adults, I’m also teaching myself how to accept those disappointments that I will continue to face. By revealing my vulnerabilities to them, I’m learning to be more comfortable with my shortcomings.

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