If you’ve been a parent for longer than fifteen minutes, you know that when it comes to predicting the future for your kid, your expectations matter about as much as the answer you get from shaking a Magic 8-Ball.
Take my oldest, for example. Her dad played college baseball and I cheered for fifteen years. Surely, she’d be born with some sort of athletic ability, right?
Imagine the shock and awe that rained down on us when it turned out she’d rather direct the dance recital than participate. No kidding—there’s a video that I still love to watch of her hissing and pointing at her fellow cast-members to fall in line during their performance.
No, she’s not going to win an Olympic medal, but she will probably wind up as the CEO of some conglomeration.
But not all changes-of-plans are easy to come to terms with.
That same bossy baby of mine is now twelve-years-old. She ended her fifth-grade year and started her sixth-grade year during the Covid pandemic. The fifth-grade picnic, field trip, and graduation were completely canceled. Then, she kicked off her middle school experience by being sent home for two weeks because she’d had “direct exposure” from one of her classmates.
And look—I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Many of you haven’t even been given the option to have face-to-face school again. Others of you had graduating seniors in 2020 and missed out on some hallmark milestones in your kid’s life.
I mean, it just sucks, right? When circumstances outside of our control steal away the dreams we have for our children?
And I don’t just mean hoping our kids love the sports we did or missing out on tassel turns—though those definitely sting. I’m talking about the kind of heartbreak that comes from disappointments with no silver lining. I’m talking about the soul-sickness that both you and your kid experience when life says no, but you really, really wanted a yes.
I’m talking about . . .
A college rejection letter.
A relationship explosion.
A failed class.
I’m talking about the times in parenting when the disappointment knocks the breath out of you. What do you do? What do you say? How can you be there for your kid when you are reeling yourself?
Here are a few suggestions.
- Be prepared. Parent Cue has a great resource called “Preparing for the Unexpected.” In it, you plan what you’ll say and do if you ever learn something about your kid that you weren’t expecting. It’s one of those things that you’ll see and think, Oh, I should do that, then don’t. I know this because I’ve known about it for a while and I’m just now filling it out. Trust me—do it. You’ll be glad you did.
- Let yourself grieve. I like a good beauty-from-ashes quote with the best of ‘em, but sometimes, I just need to sit in the ashes. Don’t hear me say that we should wallow in our pain, but we should certainly acknowledge it. Cry. Scream into a pillow. Call your best friend. Schedule an appointment with a counselor. “Being strong” for your kid doesn’t mean pretending it doesn’t suck. It means dealing with it.
- Let them talk. After your kid has had time to process the dream-loss on their own, ask them if they want to talk about it. If they say no, respect that. Wait some time, then ask again. And when they do say yes, just listen. The first time they open up to you about it, do. not. talk. Ask questions, nod, tell them you’re sorry, but do not make this moment about you or your pain. That can come in later conversations.
- Dream new dreams. This is the most important step of all. But it’s also one that needs to come after the three I’ve already talked about. It will take a little time for your kid’s heart and for your heart to heal from the loss of a dream. If you try to plant the seed of a new vision too soon, it’ll be fruitless.
One lesson that every kid (and parent) has to learn is that life is cyclical. And more than once, you’ll be in a season of beginning over again . . . again. And that’s okay. It’s brave, even—to dare to hope after you’ve been let down.
So, if you’ve been hurt by a dream for your kid you’ve had to let go, you’re not alone. You’re not a failure. You’re just a parent. And both you and your kid will survive and live to dream another day.