I don't know whose heart hurt more when my daughter lost her race for student body president, hers or mine. And I don't know if my son could possibly fathom the internal struggle I faced when he didn't get the scholarship that would have allowed him to go to a more prestigious university.
Little else breaks a mother's heart more than watching her child face disappointment. Whether your two-year-old is frustrated because you've denied him a toy or you preteen is excluded from a sleepover or your young adult isn't accepted into the school of his choice, your heart will ache with frustration and grief when your child faces the disappointments of loss, limitations or exclusion.
But, rather than wallow in our own pain over a child's grief, as mothers we have to be prepared to walk our children through inevitable disappointments so they do not grow despondent and discouraged, but instead develop more healthy attitudes, such as empathy, tenderness, focus, and resolve, as a result of their setbacks.
So how can a mom help her child turn his disappointments into stepping stones instead of allowing those same losses to trip him up? I've struggled with this at times, but I do have two young adult children who have managed to remain hopeful, positive, full of faith, joyful and confident despite the numerous disappointments they have faced. Ever the one to take some good advice when I find myself at a loss, I've accumulated some reliable and biblical pointers from more knowledgeable sources that have helped me with this daunting task. I'd like to share those with you.
- Help your child deal with the disappointment so it doesn't turn into discouragement. Disappointments are a normal part of life. We will all face them and must learn to process them in a healthy way so that discouragement doesn't set in. It's much easier to deal with a singular setback or even string of disappointing events than it is to overcome discouragement once it has set in. (see Habakkuk 3:17-19)
- Demonstrate to your child how to face disappointment with grace. Tell them when you are disappointed...because you didn't get the raise you hoped for, you missed an outing because you were ill, or you were left off of an invitation list. But then use that opportunity to teach them about God's faithfulness. Show them your hurt, but then allow them to see how God's grace heals your hurt.
- Resist the urge to fix your child's situation. Our own hurt over a child's loss can prompt us to desire to fix the problem so the child will once again be happy. However, our attempt at fixing a child's disappointment rarely resolves things wholly. Instead we risk hurting others, losing our own integrity, and offending those in authority. Plus, we send our child a false message of entitlement and easy fixes, in such cases. We teach them that things should never go wrong for them and if they do, "someone" needs to fix it. Good parents don't set their children up for lifelong heartache with such faulty thinking.
- Experience the appropriate emotions with your child. Don't brush off their hurt out of embarrassment or frustration, or in an attempt to force healing too soon. Instead demonstrate your own grief over their disappointment. Commiserate with them appropriately. Then, if they default to blame, resentment, bitterness, or criticism toward others, you have earned the ability to gently correct those attitudes while still acknowledging their pain.
Do you have other ideas for helping your children face disappointments with grace? It's a big job, being a parent. We'd love to know how you handle the emotions and struggles of a child's disappointment.
- Pray a simple prayer with your child for God's healing grace. Resist the temptation to preach to your child through the prayer, however. Keep it short and to the point. Ask God to heal their broken heart and to increase their wisdom through the disappointing situation. Then say amen. They can't yet understand how God's sovereignty and love go hand in hand, so don't even go there. Just let them know He cares and He is the one who can heal the hurt.
Labels: disappointment, grace, motherhood, Navigating Motherhood, parenting