Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins
A couple of weeks ago, some girlfriends and I went out for coffee and talked, as you do, about all the things in our lives and in our families’ lives that have not gone according to plan lately.
He didn’t get a part in the play. She didn’t make the team. His best friend moved away. She didn’t get the summer job. He didn’t understand. I wasn’t invited to that event even though it looks like everyone else on Instagram WAS.
We all know it will all be okay, but… it’s also awful.
It takes me approximately one hot second to make my own disappointments mean something about me. I let myself believe that if I wasn’t invited, it’s probably because no one is interested in my perspective, or because my relationships aren’t what I thought they were, or because I’m just not the kind of person other people want to have around.
I make it all mean that I’m not enough and I don’t belong.
My kids usually go for the more-expansive explanation: It’s not fair and the world is ending.
That’s about how it feels. But I don’t want any of us to get stuck there, right? Ultimately, I want my kids to know that they can experience disappointment and survive. Unmet expectations will not crush them. Even smashed-up hopes, broken hearts, dreams that didn’t quite come true—I want them to know these can all be endured.
This is what I want them to know: Things will not always turn out how you expect, but you are strong, and you can do this.
Even if I’m still figuring that out myself.
So what do you do with disappointment until you get to the place where it’s all okay? And what do you tell your kids about it?
Here’s where I start.
1. Feel the feelings.
It’s okay to feel disappointed, even about something small or silly. Pretending we don’t have feelings doesn’t make them go away, it just means they’re going to come out sideways.
Most of the time, feelings are like a wave in the ocean: they come in, they wash over you, and when you’ve felt them all, they go back out. They might be big, they might knock you over or knock the wind out of you, but they’re not here to stay.
Feelings give you good information, but they’re not in charge of you. You can feel them, and listen to them, and then you get to decide what happens next.
2. Pay attention to the story you’re telling.
As you’re feeling your feelings, does the story in your head (or the story your child is believing) sound like “This is it, things will never be right again,” or is it more like “Why, why, why? This isn’t what I wanted, this is miserable”?
Because stories that start with “always” and “never” and “nothing” are maybe not quite as true as stories that remind us that transformation is always possible. Even if our circumstances won’t change, we can grow and change as we live through them.
A disappointment may be the end of something. It absolutely might need to be grieved. But disappointment is not our final destination.
Things that don’t go according to plan do change our stories, but they don’t end our stories. I will wake up again tomorrow, and it might hurt, but I will still be here and I will still be breathing. Disappointment does not get the last word.
3. Get curious about the next right thing.
Yes, sometimes things happen that we would not have chosen. Yes, the disappointment and the unmet expectations feel terrible. Yes, we think the other path, the one we’re no longer on, would have been better. That may all be true. But it’s also true that disappointment opens up possibilities you wouldn’t otherwise have considered.
When I stop clinging to the thing that didn’t happen and start wondering what my next step might be, I open myself up to seeing possibility. I get unstuck right then and there.
Eventually it will be okay again. I know it. I want my kids to know it, too. It’s not easy, but we can do hard things.
How do you deal with inevitable disappointments? How do you walk your kids through rough days?