Kids need to learn how to deal with disappointment
I’ve heard this said time and time again, especially when my teenagers were younger. Most of the time, it was meant as general advice towards today’s generation of spoiled children but the advice has been directed towards me as well. I admit, I’ve been the kind of mom who wants to make life easier for her kids than my own has been. Why wouldn’t I?
Life isn’t void of disappointment. Overcoming set-backs is an important skill kids need to acquire. By solving their problems and contriving compensations, we take away learning opportunities. Personally, I thank my engineering diploma for my drive to overcome adversity and ability to fend for myself. Still, I find it difficult to accept distress in my own kids’ lives if I have the ability to avert it.
Making up for Loss
In the first months of COVID-19, counterbalancing disappointment seemed to be the go-to for many parents. Your birthday party was cancelled (again) due to COVID? OK, we’ll have to postpone it but we’ll treat you with an elaborate in-house birthday brunch ànd an extra present!
It’s an almost instinctive way to guide our kids through difficult times: compensate distress with fun and focus on the positive .
COVID provided our kids with plenty of learning opportunities. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t even begin to counterbalance it all. For me, that wasn’t a bad thing. I was forced to give up control and we learned not to take luxuries for granted.
From Disappointment to Apathy
In the second year of COVID however, I witnessed my kids’ improved ability to cope with disappointment gradually begin to evolve towards a sense of resignation, indifference and even apathy. Anticipating disappointment has become their default. We didn’t experience any COVID losses. We have been grateful for our jobs, our home office, our garden retreat, our health. I’ve always been aware of our many privileges, and COVID strongly enhanced that awareness. We really didn’t have any grounds for complaining. Still, my kids’ atypical apathy saddened me, deeply.
Shrugging off Conflict
When the conflict in Ukraine escalated, however, they weren’t even upset. They shrugged in the same way they shrugged when I announced a family holiday to Germany. In their acquired mood of apprehension, a close-by war was more readily accepted than the prospect of having a hamburger in Hamburg – the latter, one of their long-time bucket list items nonetheless.
Going on a holiday while another European country was at war, felt like betrayal. Cancelling the trip would mean betrayal on another level, to my kids. So it all happened. Russia invaded Ukraine. We enjoyed our Hamburg hamburger. Geographically, we had travelled closer to the war. Mentally, we couldn’t have been farther away.
It felt uncomfortably surreal. It was exactly what they had needed.
On the way home, we were able to discuss both world politics and the history of Bremen and its legendary town musicians. The kids’ even ventured to propose ideas for our next trip – Vienna or Venice? As we were getting closer to our home town, they quietly talked about how the Ukrainian refugeesl, who had partly been travelling the same way we did, might fee. Some of them would even be staying in our town but had no prospects of returning home soon. When my teens started to plan what they could do to make the refugees feel welcome and cared for, I felt proud. But most of all, I was relieved.
They finally were shedding their indifference; learning to let go of apathy.
Do you recognize this increased sense of indifference in your children or yourself? How is your family coping with the surreal sequence of world events?