Learning to Cope When We Feel Disappointed With Our Children

mother and teenage daughter sit angrily next to each other

I sat emotionless in my overstuffed chair gazing at nothing as tears rolled out of my empty eyes. My heart was broken. My child had disappointed me beyond my ability to cope and now I was frozen in an unrecognizable state of trauma.

Disappointment is not a word most mothers associate with their children. Our unconditional love is relentless and when that emotion sneaks into our consciousness we push it away or hide it in undiscoverable places. Yet it is real, an emotion every mother should prepare to experience, navigate, and reconcile. You may be lucky enough or just emotionally healthy enough to have never experienced disappointment in your children or perhaps your children are still too young to have disappointed you. But, for most, even before our children are conceived, we are disappointed by the timing of their entrance, by their gender or by the way they impact our bodies.

It’s Ok to Feel Disappointed With Our Children

mother sits beside young daughter, obviously annoyed

It’s ok to feel this way. You are not a bad mother because you feel disappointed. I had expectations for my children before I knew them. Most of those dreams were related to my own life failures. My children were an extension of myself. When I gave birth to another human, I instinctively felt a connection that tied me to that child. Slowly as my children grew and developed the bond lessened and my children became unique individuals. But that innate bond drove me to protect, nurture, inspire and set high hopes. I planned and dreamed for my children and stepped easily into the role of supporter and encourager. Naturally, when expectations don’t match reality disappointment emerges. It is only human to feel discontent.

Learning to Cope

mother and teenage daughter argue

Dealing with the disappointment and ultimately reconciling it was important in my motherhood journey. I knew my obsession with the emotion would drive my children away creating an irreparable chasm in our relationships. Some disappointments in motherhood are more manageable than others. A child who has no musical talent, or who lacks the athleticism to excel at a sport are simply indicators that redirection is needed. But as children get older, disappointments get bigger and more intense. A child dropping out of school, getting involved with drugs, or making life choices that destroy or defile can be overwhelming to a parent. Learning to love unconditionally and setting emotional boundaries are key to one’s ability to cope.

Emotional Boundaries

Setting emotional boundaries to me means recognizing that my children must make their own choices. From the time a child is born the journey toward independence begins and while parenting by very nature means leading, guiding, and protecting, eventually, individuality dictates decision making.  Recognizing that a person reaches an age where they must make their own decisions and live with them is a healthy way to set emotional boundaries. I had to learn to let go. I imagine I’m not alone in this struggle. The love for a child is so intense, and so complete, that letting go literally feels like cutting off a limb. Yet, it is a beautiful way to love your child well and set healthy emotional boundaries.

Loving Unconditionally

Once I learned to let go, I was intentional about loving unconditionally. This means not setting limits on my love for my child. I’ve learned to recognize that while I was a good parent, I still did not control my child’s life journey nor their life choices. My love for each of them is not dependent on how they live their lives including what they do or do not accomplish, or who they do or do not marry.

Honestly, this isn’t easy for any parent. We have so much invested in our children that they become a part of our identity. Their success means our success. Their happiness means our happiness. So, seeing them as separate entities and therefore with the ability to define themselves differently than we would as parents is difficult. When a parent can love a child despite the initial disappointment a new level of unconditional love is achieved. This is a journey that most parents will one day travel, a privilege and right of passage, learning the true meaning of loving unconditionally is the most important part of good parenting.

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Rebecca M., a mother of three successfully launched adults and recent grandmother to one adorable baby boy {Barrett, 12 months old} has enjoyed working with children her entire life. Over the course of her career, she taught nearly every grade level from preschool to 8th grade in private and public schools. Rebecca’s love of children and passion for education led her to a ministry of supporting young mothers by providing quality childcare. She now directs BELA, BridgePoint Early Learning Academy, a preschool program for infants through pre-kindergarteners. When she is not busy babysitting her grandson or managing BELA, she enjoys writing, gardening, swimming, and planning events. Married to David, her biggest supporter, friend, and companion for 31 years, Rebecca considers the strength of her family to be her number one life accomplishment and finds her greatest joys come from pouring into the lives of those she loves and serves.

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