I subscribe to the Daily Babble newsletter and this week the very first article immediately caught my attention. Teaching Kids About Disappointment was the title of the article; written by Harlyn Aizley, author of Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Mothers Tell All. The subtitle to this article was Why Are We So Afraid To Tell Children That Life’s Not Fair?
Harlyn’s article was about five year olds being disappointed at a birthday party, but it was the grander message that I found really thought provoking. Afterward, I pondered on the very question that she raised in her article; why the hell are we so afraid to tell our children that life sometimes isn’t fair?
As an ex and a stepmom I am well aware that life hasn’t always seemed fair for our children. The families, as they knew them, dissolved right before their very eyes. My son’s father lives out of the country for ten months of every year, which means he doesn’t get to see him very often. He and my stepson are only 3 months apart and went from being only children, with the attention all on them, to having to share the attention with the other and with us. When my husband and I got together, they were barely 4 years old and I can totally see how life seemed unfair to them then and even now. After all, dad isn’t always able to be at school plays or basketball games because one (my ex) lives out of the country and my stepson’s dad (my husband) doesn’t live in state with him. However, from day one, I have been an advocate of empowering my son to accept change and define happiness or “normal” for himself. It is the reason that my ex and I have never attempted to alter my son’s reality. Dad is in Spain because that’s where his job is and mom lives in the states. I wasn’t going to move to Spain so that he could be closer to him. We don’t vacation together for his benefit (not knocking those who do, by the way) and we live our lives separately because we are no longer together. Instead of altering my son’s reality I was successful in getting him to embrace this change and then define his new normal. I told him that yes dad works out of the country and you don’t get to see him very often, but that just means when you do see him it will be that much more rewarding. Instead of encouraging him to be angry about sharing me with two other people, I told him that he would now have a best buddy, whom he had a lot in common with, to create special memories with. Additionally, he would have a full time father figure to do things with that mom is no good at, like playing baseball or Yu-Gi Oh. Over time, he began to see my point and now, his modern family is normal to him and he’s very happy with it!
That being said, I never encouraged my son to suppress his feelings. I acknowledged his angry, hurt, sad, and confused feelings. I told him that he was absolutely justified in feeling the way that he did; however, I have never allowed him to use his circumstances as a crutch. Life sometimes sucks is what I told him, but you have to make the best out of whatever cards you are dealt. This is the way things are now and they are never going to be the way they were, so how do we move forward with what we have?
His life over the past 10 years has afforded him some life long lessons that he will take with him when he becomes an adult. The truth is, is that life isn’t always fair and nobody is going to twist and bend like a pretzel to make sure you are never disappointed. Life is full of disappointments! Additionally, you have to learn to move forward and choose to be happy instead of angry or victimized. Giving into that anger is what permanently scars you; not the disappointments themselves. It has also taught him that he is in charge of his happiness; not his dads, his moms, his siblings or anyone else. Finally, it has encouraged him to accept and embrace change because although it’s uncertain, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be worth it.
I realize that what I’m saying is easier said than done, believe me I do. As a mom who always wants to protect her cubs, there have been times when I have wanted to give my son whatever he wants just so that he doesn’t have to feel pain, hurt or disappointment. But then I realized that doing so means that he will never be equipped to handle the real world and all the real life challenges that it brings. Allowing our children to appropriately deal with and accept disappointment teaches them to live in this world and not some world that is designed specifically for them.