Huge tears came when his team lost. My ten-year-old was crushed when the Falcons didn’t pull off a Super Bowl win, his little head hung in disappointment. My husband and I were a bit perplexed – he wasn’t even a Falcons fan. The big game build-up, however, had caused him to pick a team to cheer for and he had developed enough admiration for the Falcons throughout the course of that game alone to result in a crushing disappointment when they weren’t the ones celebrating in the confetti.
As a parent, disappointment may be the hardest thing for me to deal with. I don’t want to see my kids sad; I want to cheer them up immediately with promises of puppy dogs and vacations that we don’t have even remotely planned. I want to patch the hole instead of allowing painful feelings to flow freely. I want to do those things, but I don’t. I take a breath and bite my lip as I wipe away the huge tears that come when life didn’t go exactly as they had planned. Those tears and the emotions behind them are crucial to developing the coping skills that they will need throughout their lives. By smothering those emotions, they’d never grow. By depriving disappointment the ability to fully thrive, my boys will be without the tools necessary to deal with the series of disappointments that make life, well, life.
I am stronger for what I’ve gone through. When a publisher passes on one of my manuscripts, I acknowledge the sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach and know that it will eventually pass. Like it or not, we face disappointment on some level almost daily. Who hasn’t found half of their to-go order missing when they got home. Who hasn’t experienced a heavy heart when they were passed over for a professional opportunity. Who hasn’t looked in the mirror after a haircut and thought, This looks nothing like the picture I showed her... In varying degrees, everyone experiences disappointment and their handling of such moments can speak volumes as to their character and inner strength. Yes, I want to fix everything when my boys suffer a crushing moment, but I don’t because they need these experiences as much as leafy green vegetables in their diets, exercise to get the wiggles our, and hours upon hours of restful sleep. What those things do for their bodies, embracing heartache can do for the mind.
When my son’s favorite show was recently interrupted for a Special News Report, his reaction was typical of someone his age. He was irritated at the change of course – he was angry that an evening didn’t go according to the mental plan that had formed on his way home from school that day. After a few minutes of hearing him complain, my husband and I responded in unison. “Get over it.” And, “get over it” he did, especially when he realized he would be getting no sympathy from us. Kids watch their parents for clues as to how to react and if we treat every minor disappointment as a major life setback, they’ll never be able to distinguish the two.
So, as much as it breaks my heart to see my boys upset, I bite my lip and weigh the level of disappointment we’re dealing with. When he didn’t get selected for a group as school, we look at his work and discuss whether he could have spent a bit more time on the personal statement and if he really tried as hard as he claimed to. When he doesn’t pitch the game that he had envisioned in his mind, we talk about whether he incorporated all of the instruction that his coach had given him. In terms of a Super Bowl loss, I hugged my son and told him that he needs to get used to feeling this way if he’s going to play sports and be sports fan in life. And, as for me, I just watched the Super Bowl for the nachos and Lady Gaga – neither of which disappointed.