Disappointing Your Kids

Parents today have too many pressures heaped upon them.  We are bombarded with “expert” opinions and unrealistic expectations on how to raise perfect, well-adjusted, brilliant, beautiful, talented, morally immaculate children.  It’s more than even our Bible heroes could achieve!  Formulas abound.  Plug in these variables and presto!  Get perfect kids!  As if raising children was as simple as following a recipe; baking the perfect kidcake with all the best organic ingredients.

On top of all that, I see parents who will go to great lengths, moving heaven and earth in order not to disappoint their kids.  They somehow, along with caring for their kids, feel responsible for their total and complete happiness.  As if parents don’t already have enough heaped onto their plates managing homes, families, schedules, work, school, bills, etc., since when did it become our responsibility to placate each and every whim and desire our kids have?

I love my kids.  I would lay down in front of a bus for them.  In fact, in many ways I kind of already have.  I have endured natural labor and delivery for all four of them, nursed them all for at least the first year of their lives, and now I homeschool all four!  It definitely feels as if, at times, I have indeed been hit by a bus.  I am with them all the blessed time.  And did I mention there are four of them?  Sometimes I feel like I am playing a constant game of Whack-a-Mole; just when I get one kid settled and one need met, up pops another one!  At some point, I have to tell them to entertain/occupy/feed/talk to themselves.  Very early on with four children under the age of 5, we learned that someone was just going to have to pout/be unhappy/cry for a moment…and many times it was me.

Now because of the sheer volume of children in our house, we’ve had to lay down a few rules.  They are never, under any circumstances, to ever utter the words “I’m bored” in our presence.  We have trained them well, because whenever they have said this to us in the past, we have responded by handing them a broom or a toilet scrubber, or pointed them in the direction of a stinky litter box.  And we’re not ogres.  We don’t just use manual labor.  We have preemptively provided them with plenty of options, because we love them.  Quite often we tell them to go read; we hand them a book and tell them to study it and come back and tell us what they have learned.  They can draw or paint or practice piano, putting their art and piano lessons to good use.  One of our homeschool philosophies is teaching them to be self-directed learners.  Ren and I do not exist to make them happy or spoon-feed them everything.  We love them.  We care for and about their needs.  We provide for them.  But there comes a point when we have to put our foot down and say no, simply because we have limits and cannot do everything for them.

As parents we feel that one of our main goals is to teach them how to be independent and self-reliant, and self-directed, and not continually looking to other people to meet their needs and make them happy.  My daughters bought their own American Girl dolls mainly because we didn’t want to set the precedent of having to buy all 3 of them a $100 doll.  Now they are saving up for their own iPods.  Now, of course we want them depending on God and relying on His direction and His Spirit, first and foremost.  But when it comes to other people, they really need to learn to be be content and happy with themselves (and God) before they can operate and function in any healthy relationship.

Obviously, our kids do indeed depend on us, and rightfully so.  But far too often I see an unhealthy codependency between children and their parents. I believe that our primary goal is to teach our children, as they grow and mature, to separate themselves from us.  They are not “us.”  They are their own individual selves, whom God created with each their own unique individual purpose.

I truly believe that’s what Jesus is talking about in Luke 14:26 when He says, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”  Or in Matthew 19:29 when He says that everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.”  On the surface, those verses can be tough to swallow.  They certainly aren’t ones you’ll see on a Mother’s Day card!  But I think that what Jesus is getting at is exactly what I’ve been saying.  I am not God.  I would make a pretty terrible god for my children.  They are supposed to see my inadequacies, and be left longing for more than I can give, as I humbly point them in the direction of the One who can give them a Living Water and be satisfied. 

My oldest daughter recently had an opportunity to go to Disney World with her best friend.  It was truly an opportunity of a lifetime for her.  Her friend’s grandparents work at Disney World for half the year, so they get to go for free, get perks on reservations, hotels, discounts on merchandise, etc.  We went to Disney World as a family last year, but we had more of a commoner’s experience, the layperson’s if you will, in which we had to wait in long lines and pay full price for everything.  The kids enjoyed it, but I was truly happy when Isabel had another opportunity to go and this time have a more VIP experience.  But there was one small problem…my other kids weren’t invited.  Do I keep Isabel home for fear of my other kids being too devastated because their big sister got to go without them?  HECK NO!!!!  Trust me, that was not a pleasant family discussion. Were they disappointed?  Sure.  Well, my 5-year old wasn’t because all she remembers about Disney is non-stop walking for 5 days, but that’s not the point.  I simply couldn’t imagine denying my daughter an opportunity simply because I would be disappointing my other children.

It actually turned out to be an excellent teaching lesson for them, and for all of us.  First of all, Isabel had to wait 10 years for her very first trip to Disney.  All of her friends had gone before her, while her parents were too busy taking care of her baby brother and sisters to do anything crazy and frivolous like make a pilgrimage to Disney!  Also, it gave us a chance to talk to our other kids about how Isabel is going to do a lot of things BEFORE them, simply because she is older.  She will drive before them.  Graduate before them.  That’s one of the perks of being the oldest.  However, those of you who wear the oldest crown in the family also know that there are so. many. responsibilities that go along with that.  Especially true of children of large families, a lot of chores get heaped on them by necessity.  My 10-year old does her own laundry, loads and unloads the dishwasher, vacuums her own room, makes her bed every day, bathes the dog, makes us coffee when we ask her too, and knows how to make a mean Shepherd’s Pie.  In other words, she works pretty hard for a 10 year old because we need her help.  Plus she’s cheaper than a maid.  I saw the chance for her to go to Disney with her friend as an opportunity and a true gift from the Lord.

And here’s the thing:  I didn’t feel like I had to “make it up” to my other kids somehow.  They have all gone to Disney.  And they will very likely go again.  And they will have different opportunities in life.  Life is not equal.  Life is not always fair.  But the goal is to make the most of what you’ve got, and be grateful and give thanks for all the wonderful opportunities that do come your way.  No, my other kids didn’t get the VIP trip to Disney.  And that is perfectly okay with me.  They will have other chances to do and be a part of great things in this life, I am sure of it.  I believe that, because I believe in a great God.  With Him, there is no scarcity, only an abundance of blessing, and I look forward to seeing all the exciting and creative ways He is going to bless each one of my children.

It’s hard to say no.  It’s hard to disappoint your kids.  It’s hard to disappoint anyone.  We all want to be loved and applauded for all our choices, but that’s just not realistic.  Teaching your kids to deal with disappointment in life is a much greater gift to them than continually giving them everything they want.  Because, honestly, I have met those kids as adults, and they aren’t people that I want to spend a lot of time with!

I think that our unwillingness to disappoint our kids can sometimes be rooted in our own pride and insecurity.  We want to be our kids’ savior.  We want to rescue them.  We want to satisfy their wants and needs because if we don’t, we fear that it will somehow reflect poorly on us.  Sure we all love them and want to take good care of them.  But, I am talking about the guilt we feel when they get sad or unhappy about something, and we somehow feel responsible.  Or maybe, we are still bitter over ways our own parents have disappointed us and then we overcompensate with our own children and go overboard in trying to please them.  I see parents who do that, and no matter how much they do for them, their kids are still miserable.

A friend of mine once said that she never wanted to be the reason her daughter ended up on a therapists’ couch.  And at the time I agreed with that.  We were both young mothers, and I felt the exact same way.  Well now that I have 11 years of parenting under my belt, I realize that I am not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ve made many mistakes.  And if in the future my kids find themselves on a therapist’s couch as adults, and I am NOT the reason or at least one of the reasons, then that would probably make me the very first parent ever to accomplish such an amazing feat!

So here’s my charge to you, parents!  You have have my permission to disappoint your kids.  Tell them no at least once a day.  It will be tough at first, but it gets easier, I promise.  Trust me, I am an expert at it.  Part of our responsibility as parents is to teach our children how to make themselves happy, and not always rely on us to constantly do it for them.  Our world needs more people like that.

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3 thoughts on “Disappointing Your Kids

  1. Sharla says:

    “They are supposed to see my inadequacies, and be left longing for more than I can give, as I humbly point them in the direction of the One who can give them a Living Water and be satisfied.” Excellent quote, Angela.

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