On Easter morning. My nine-year-old bounded into my room brimming with anticipation, “Mom! Are we going to do baskets now?” I could already predict the disappointment he inevitably would experience when I answered. In years past, the boys awoke to my frenzied preparations while they remained in their bedrooms awaiting the “go” sign.
We have a slightly unusual basket hunt. I tie a string to each basket – not just a little string, either. Using a whole skein, I warp and weave the trail of thread around and under furniture, out our back door, through plants, back in, around more household items, in and out of closets, through various rooms and finally, back into the waiting hand of each child.
They commence unraveling their trail, moving like spies across laser beams, untangling the line until they finally arrive at the destination: their basket! We fill each basket with snacks, something of spiritual significance, and usually the coming year’s new swimsuit (an essential in California).
A Season for Everything
Traditions are like habits for our hearts. They anchor us with reminders of all that is familiarly good, safe and meaningful. Still, some years, we have to say, “uncle.” As God teaches in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. We need to know our time and seasons.
My oldest is 16. This puts me in a precarious place as a mom. While I want to pack as much good family life into the coming two years, I also sense the magnetic pull drawing him away toward his future. In his early years I was notorious for putting on epic, and I do mean epic, birthday parties and holiday celebrations.
I sometimes wore myself ragged with preparations. As I have aged, I put less into the falderal and more into being together and keeping my sanity. (If mama ain’t happy … the biggest shindig in the world doesn’t make up for the edge on her mood).
Making a Wise Choice
We had the option of going to sunrise service, followed by a pancake breakfast on the front lawn of the church. We had already committed to serving in the second service, corralling children into the sanctuary so they could sing “Jesus is Alive” and then going back to children’s church to help bring the meaningful lesson of resurrection home into their little hearts.
This year that commitment felt like enough. Coming home after church I’d cook a meal of southern style mac n cheese, bacon wrapped asparagus and herbed carrots. Then the boys would go on a scavenger hunt for the Easter bounty. Baskets were going to be a part of Easter, just not first thing in the morning. We would avoid me being frazzled and overextended in the bargain.
I told my son as much after he catapulted exuberantly through my bedroom door Easter morning. The look on his face killed me. His lip literally started to quiver as tears formed in his eyes. Right at this moment of disappointment, I felt the words “mom fail” rise up in my heart. The urge to jump out of bed, put together a basket, dig up some string and start weaving felt powerful.
I paused, remembering the goodness contained within disappointment.
The Hidden Blessing
Looking at my son I said, “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry you are disappointed. Come here. Can I give you a hug?” He came around the bed and snuggled in close. He expressed how he thought I said we were still doing morning baskets. I didn’t correct him. I lay there, allowing his feelings to swell around us. Honestly, this felt so uncomfortable to me. I knew I needed to provide a safe space – a place of comfort – while not changing the outcome.
Dr. Jane Nelson gave me the wisdom to know my child benefits from a healthy dose of occasional disappointment:
One of the biggest mistakes some parents and teachers make is becoming too permissive because they don’t want to be punitive. Some mistakenly believe they are being kind when they please their children, or when they rescue them and protect them from all disappointment. This is not being kind; it is being permissive.
Being kind means to be respectful of the child and of yourself. It is not respectful to pamper children or to rescue them from every disappointment so they don’t have the opportunity to develop their “disappointment muscles.”
It is respectful to validate their feelings, “I can see that you are disappointed (or angry, or upset, etc.).” Then it is respectful to have faith in children that they can survive disappointment and develop a sense of capability in the process.
Our world isn’t leaning towards health in this way. Parents often try to quell children with instant gratification. What do you witness when a child has to wait and self-entertain? At restaurants before the meal comes or on long car rides, parents often hand over the IPad or phone. Allowing children to quell themselves with screens is an easy and quick fix. In the long haul, we rob our children of the opportunity to exercise a skill they need – the ability to endure hardship and patiently wait for something they want.
Giving a Gift
When we gently and lovingly allow our children to hear “no,” or “later,” we give them a gift. They cultivate the capacity to endure.
God has a lot to say about endurance.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~ James 1:2-4
That word, “perfect” can be translated as “mature,” or “whole,” We want our children to be complete and mature. If we want them to lack in nothing, we have to be willing to allow them to suffer through some disappointment. Let’s commit to resisting the urge to rescue them. Keeping an eye on their character, let’s allow them to occasionally wait for things they want. Patiently allowing our children to grow through temporary disappointment can stretch us as parents. The payoff will be worth us enduring alongside them.
How about you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about children and disappointment. I’d also be thrilled to have you join Hearts Homeward so I can send you my weekly letter of encouragement and inspiration as well as including you in specials and freebies when I offer those. Would you give me the privilege of pouring into your motherhood?