How do you react when someone disappoints your child? How do you hold it together when your child comes home crying because no one wants to include him at school? How do you stand back and watch your child’s eyes well up with tears when he wants something so badly and it doesn’t turn out the way he expects?
This happened to me recently. And I’m sure it happens to mums and dads everywhere, every day. This intense need to protect our babies, even when they are no longer babies is one that will most likely never go away. So I suppose it’s about time we all learn ways to handle the heart wrenching moment when you see the look of disappointment in your child’s eyes.
Recently my son celebrated a birthday and he selected an Ironman cake. We spent ages looking at images on the Internet and he proudly handed the baker the printed image himself. He talked about his Ironman cake for weeks, so when it was time to collect it, he could hardly contain himself.
Except when we arrived at the bakery in town, the bakery with the best reputation for being so professional, the cake was not there. The baker had ‘forgot’ to make it. He looked me bluntly in the face and said, “The cake’s not done.”
I looked down at my son, standing proudly at the counter, with hopeful eyes. I watched his face drop as he turned to me for confirmation that this bad news was indeed the truth. I watched him walk away from the counter and turn away from me.
I couldn’t see his eyes well up with tears. But I could feel them.
But what happened next is what really stings.
I went off at the baker. I told him he didn’t deserve his good reputation. I threatened him with empty lies about tarnishing his name. I acted like I belonged in The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I went all crazy Kanye on him.
After I had finished my rant and my heart was about to come out of my chest, my son, whose eyes still had tears in them, looked up at me and said, “It’s okay Mum. I don’t need an Ironman cake.”
We headed over to Woolworths, picked up one of those pre-made sugary Cars cakes and headed to his party. And in the car, as I was breathing through the anger, he says from the back seat, to no one in particular, “It’s okay. I like Lightning McQueen too.” He then sat back and smiled to himself.
And that was it.
Perhaps this is the way you are supposed to handle disappointment.
Perhaps you are supposed to understand it; to come up with a solution inside; and to accept it. Perhaps you are supposed to say out loud, to no one in particular, that it’s okay.
I know that this trivial situation is nothing compared to some of the other situations we will be facing later in life. I also know I handled that situation badly. The sadness and the anger consumed me and, although I wanted to just shrug them off and say, “It’s okay”, I just couldn’t.
This is a tricky emotion to get a hold of and being able to keep your cool and keep your head up when your child is down has got to be one of the hardest things about parenting.
But if this occasion has taught me anything it’s this – kids are a lot stronger than we think. I know I am in for years and years of watching my son get his heart broken by adults, friends, girlfriends, teachers and more. I guess all I can do is sit back and be there when he needs – to offer my support; to give him a hug; to wipe his tears. And to try and never be the one that disappoints.