Liz cringed when her daughter lost the election to become student body president just as she had cringed when her daughter didn’t get chosen as a cheerleader. But this rejection, one year after the election loss was more difficult still. In spite of high grades, a decent SAT score, and after carefully logging her volunteer hours the young woman received a small envelope from her college of choice.
“This has to be a rejection,” Liz thought, but she knew her daughter would want to open the letter herself. “This is going to devastate her.”
Liz spent the entire day in a state of turmoil. She couldn’t get anything done. She found herself crying. Her daughter had tried so hard, and she wanted this so much. It just wasn’t fair.
When her daughter got home Liz handed over the envelope, fighting back the tears. The young woman took the envelope and from the expression on her face, Liz could tell her guess had been correct. Without saying anything other than, “Oh, well,” the daughter went up to her bedroom, closed the door, and stayed there for a good hour.
Liz was beside herself. What could she do? What could she say? Finally, she knocked on her daughter’s bedroom door.
“Honey? Are you all right?”
Her daughter opened the door with car keys in her hands. “Yeah. I’m going over to Katie’s. Bye.”
Later that night, Liz called Katie’s mom, as her daughter still hadn’t said a word about the rejection other than to confirm it. Katie’s mom happened to be a trained counselor and Liz thought that perhaps, with her daughter having spent the afternoon at her house, the counselor could give some tips to help Katie get over the disappointment.
“Liz, can I be honest with you?” Katie’s mom asked.
“Your daughter is a happy girl. This wasn’t a big deal to her.”
“She must be in denial,” Liz answered. “I know how much she wanted this.”
“No, you know how much you wanted it. The only thing that bothers your daughter is that she feels like she’s let you down, but it’s really not a big deal to her.”
Liz was flabbergasted. “Are you telling me she really doesn’t care?”
“I’m telling you that she doesn’t feel like a failure. She just feels bad that her mom thinks she feels like a failure. She’s happy and even excited about the other schools she did get into it, but she doesn’t think you are so she doesn’t feel like she can celebrate with you.”
This became a life altering moment for Liz, an opportunity to critique herself and her emotions, her sense of self and security, her view of her children, God, and life in entirely new ways. She came to realize she wasn’t raising her daughter as much as she was depending on her daughter, for her own sense of self-worth, feelings of accomplishment, and her belief in her abilities as a mother.
Perhaps what hurt Liz the most was her friend’s observation that, “your daughter doesn’t feel like a failure. She just feels bad that her mom thinks she’s a failure.”
Parents, it’s wonderful to have big dreams for your kids but do they see you celebrate their successes—however limited they may seem to you—every bit as much as they see you hurt over their disappointments? Do our kids see us deriving joy from childrearing or do they more frequently notice our pain, disappointment, hurt, and fear?
Parenting has a knack of making every parent come face to face with our true motivation, shaky sense of self-worth, and conflicted beliefs about what really matters. One of the greatest spiritual challenges we will ever endure is watching a child fail. Just the threat of such a failure can paralyze us.
I want to leave an inheritance to my kids but not the inheritance of fear and not the inheritance of disappointment. I’d like to give them an example of faith, a model of peace, remembrance of courage, and perhaps a few extra dollars to give their bank accounts a little boost. I hope they don’t inherit my self-absorbed fears.
If I don’t intentionally rein these fears in; however, they will. Jesus was adamant: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
Did you catch the “do not let…” part? Can we model that to our kids? “Whatever the disappointment, we won’t let our hearts be troubled…”
This might be a good verse for some parents to memorize. It’s normal to have dreams for our kids, but let’s not burden them with our own disappointment when our dreams for them do not come true in the way we want them to.