Disappointment . . . A Lesson Learned

Up until last week, disappointment and rejection were two feelings that I had never really thought about my daughter experiencing—at least not at the age of eleven. I’m not talking about small disappointments, like the time she didn’t get the present she had been dreaming about, or the rejection of not being invited to a classmate’s birthday party. These feelings—as painful as they were at the time—were fleeting and soon forgotten.

This time was different.

I was in an all-day meeting at the office, intently listening to a colleague discussing the requirements for a new product, when I felt my phone vibrate letting me know that I had just received an email. When I saw that it was from my daughter’s dance school with the subject “Company Auditions,” I actually felt my heart skip a beat. Two months earlier, my daughter had auditioned for the company, and was told that she’d be notified later in the summer of the results. I knew that she wanted to be in this company more than anything, not because she dreams of being a dancer, but because of the accomplishment of getting in, along with the chance to compete. For the last few days, she had been persistently asking me if I had gotten a call from them. Now, in the split-second it took me to open the email, I had two distinct visions. The first was of me telling her that she had gotten in, maybe I’d wait and do it at dinner—she would be so excited. However, the second vision—the one of me telling her she didn’t make it—made me quickly scan the email to finally know the outcome.

She didn’t get in.

I told her as soon as I picked her up from the pool that evening. I couldn’t wait, there was no opportune time, and the burden of knowing was too much for me to bear. She was stunned—even questioning if it were a joke—and then the tears started. She ran to her room as soon as we were home, and I could hear her sobbing through her tightly closed door. When I finally ventured into her room, she declared that she wanted to quit dancing. I didn’t know what to say to her, so I just stood there, quietly telling her how sorry I was.

She turned on me in a flash of anger, and snapped, “How would you know how it feels?” I stopped short at the harshness in her voice. I was struck with the sudden memories of the disappointments I have experienced in my life: at fourteen, being rejected by the art program at my high school, even though I viewed myself as an “artist”; at twenty-eight, not getting promoted after years of working for the advancement; or, at sixteen, the rejection I felt when a close friend ended our friendship without warning or explanation. But these were not the experiences of an eleven year-old, and maybe I was somehow better equipped to handle disappointment as a teenager and young adult than she is now. In that moment, I struggled to find the right words to say because all I wanted was to fix it—to call the dance school to ask if there had been a mistake or to somehow make them change their minds—I wanted to take her pain away.

But I knew that I couldn’t.

So, in the end, I do what I always do—I try to use logic to help her figure out how to navigate her own life. I know my daughter, she is fiercely competitive, both with others, but even more so with herself. She feels compelled to be the best at everything she does, and up until this point she had been successful in the one area she had always strived—school. So, that’s what I decided to use to get through to her. I told her to think about what she would do if she had been working hard in a class but wasn’t able to get an A. I told her that she would have gone to the teacher to find out what she could be doing to improve, and then she would have worked even harder. I could see her thinking as I described this scenario, so I continued on, attempting to make the connection for her. I told her that the same should be true with dance. There must be something that the dance instructors thought she should be working on—so I suggested that she talk to them, find out what it is, and then work on it. She didn’t interrupt me as I spoke, and I noticed that her tears had stopped—she appeared to be listening. When I had finished talking, I didn’t ask her to respond, but instead left her alone to think—I was also afraid if I kept talking I would push my luck and say something that would start the crying all over again.

A little while later, she finally emerged from her room, still a bit sad around the eyes, but with a look of determination about her. The first thing she said to me was “Instead of taking three dance classes next year—can I take four?” Without thinking about all the potential downfalls of this question—the added expense, my own busy schedule, and the amount of time she will be investing in this—I smiled and told her “Okay.”

My advice for my daughter is to always remember this moment in her life. So many people give up when faced with setbacks, disappointments, and rejection—but she didn’t. She had a choice, and she chose to try again. I hope that the pride I have for her can be felt through these words I write—and I hope, too,  that I will always remember to never give up.

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71 thoughts on “Disappointment . . . A Lesson Learned

  1. You gave her excellent advice, mama. It is so easy for us sometimes to move on to something else because we met with disappointment but it is a great lesson for her to learn that persistence and gumption are much better tactics to deal with initial failure. She will carry that with her always, in all life decisions, and relationships. I hope she keeps plugging at it and show that school who’s boss!

    • Thanks, Trini! I love the way you sum it up so succinctly—I’ll be sure to share your comment with my daughter. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment—you rock!

  2. I absolutely believe in perseverance when it is possible to polish our performance and progress. However, we also have to teach our children to be resilient in times of disappointment.

    • Hi Aunt Sue. I always love to get a comment from a mom that I respect as much as I do you. I did think for a moment that maybe she wouldn’t come back from the disappointment, maybe she really would quit dancing. There was a huge part of me that just wanted to tell her “You aren’t allowed to quit,” but I knew that it really needed to come from her, she needed to want to continue. As a parent, it’s so hard to know the right thing to do when it comes to your kid’s interests and activities. It’s such a delicate balance between encouraging them to stick with something, even when it gets difficult, and giving something up because it truly isn’t what they want to be doing.

  3. I suppose that I should have continued my thoughts within my second sentence. Everyone faces a time when, despite all of our hard work, great effort, determination, we cannot gain what we feel we have earned and deserve.
    Introducing the concept of resiliency may be helpful so that your daughter’s spirit and efforts can continue to soar into a new direction rather than remain grounded in an emotional storm. While I sincerely hope that your daughter achieves all of her dreams, the development of your daughter’s coping skills by learning to acknowledge that her skills, her talents, and her abilities will be needed and appreciated by others will help her to remain resilient to any disappointment when thoughtless others have the audacity to disagree with me!

    • You should write a book—seriously. We should talk about it when we finally get together (which I sincerely hope is this year). You are an incredible mother, and your children are lucky to have you!

  4. hi! thanks for visiting picky and leaving it some love! i put a subscription by email gadget up just now. thanks for calling it to my attention!

  5. This was an amazingly well-written post. You tell this story so wonderfully. It’s hard to see our kids feel sad, but you should be so very proud of your daughter and the way she handled this loss. Great job, mom!

    • You’re right—it is so hard to see your children sad, especially when there is nothing you can do to make it better. Thank you for your very thoughtful comment.

  6. You have helped form your daughter into an amazing person. You are such a great mom for giving her the tools to keep going and not just give up. She has such a bright future ahead, and she has you to thank.

    • Thanks! You have complimented the two things that are central to my blog—how I parent my daughter and how I write. I am humbled by your comment.

  7. You’re the mom I wish I had! And I strive to be.

    I really wish my mom had approached some (admittedly) dramatic life-ending moments like this with a little more compassion. Do we know that this won’t be a blip on her radar in a year? Of COURSE! But that doesn’t make it any less crucial to her at the time, and understanding it the way you did was so sweet and open.

    • Your comment made me want to know your story! In a previous post, I wrote about how the best parenting “advice” I got was by looking at how my father parented us and deciding what NOT to do. The fact that you can look back at your own childhood and see what could have been better will DEFINITELY make you a wonderful mother!

      Thanks for the comment, and for putting yourself out there.

    • After I finished writing this one, I definitely thought about how my daughter will have this to read when she is older. It’ll be interesting to see her reaction to it when she is much older. Thanks!

  8. I don’t have children of my own but this post reminded me of the conversations I’ve had with my mother at the various times disappointment threatened to derail any of my dreams or goals! Loved this post and I look forward to reading more! Visiting from #commenthour!

    • Thank you! I also have a very supportive mother, and I think it has helped me do so many things in my life. Mothers, like daughters, are a gift. Thanks for the comment!

    • Thank you. She hasn’t talked to them yet—the school is closed until Sept. I think she will, though. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for the comment—it was very thoughtful.

  9. You are one incredible mother. I really liked that you listened to what she had to say even if she snapped back at you when you said, “I know how you feel.” Sometimes, young kids, even adults hate hearing someone say that. Even though I’m not a Dad, I took your approach to dealing with a situation with how I some day hope to do with my kids.

    Your daughter has determination and I don’t think she will let anything get in her way. You gave her the best piece of advice a parent could give…”hope.” You’re letting her live her dreams which most parents discourage their kids of doing, which I think causes a lot of resentment between the kids to their parents. I think what you did will help your daughter grow and make her love you even more. I really admire what you did.

    Even at 23 years old, I’ve faced some obstacles. I was let go from my dream job, but just recently I was able to pick myself up and I was accepted into Graduate School. Determination is an interesting “beast” because it really reflects an individuals personality and helps them fight back to the top!

    • I’ve read your comment a number of times, and I want you to know that I am truly humbled. I’ve said it a number of times in previous posts that I strive to be a good mother, that I take it more seriously than anything else I do. When I wrote this post, in my mind I was focusing so much on the pride I had in my daughter, and a little less on my role in the whole situation. After reading all of these comments, and in particular yours, I guess I am proud to be doing my “job” as mom well. Thank you. Good luck with Grad School—that’s really exciting. What will you study? It sounds like you are a very determined person—very impressive.

      • I really meant every word I said too! I don’t think many parents remember what it’s REALLY like to be a kid. As you get older, you have more responsibilities, a family to take care of, bills to pay…the lists goes on and on. The thoughts of remembering what it was like to be a kid just tends to fade off into memory.

        What hit home for me is you focused on the pride of your daughter, you reflected back to your childhood and put yourself in the position of, “what would I want to be told if I was her?” The fact that you said just enough not to have her question your suggestion and keep her full attention shows that you know what being a parent is. I think most parents forget that their job is to help mold their children into what the child wants to me (not what the parent wants them to be). You do that to perfection and you’re one of the few parents that really cares.

        Some parents can’t do what you did when their kid snaps at them. They go into defense mode. (“Now I must discipline my kid because he/she raised his voice.”) Instead of taking a step back and thinking…”did I say the wrong thing?” You thought about what to say before you said it and you continued to build your daughter up so that now she’s determined on her own to not let anything bring her down.

        Here’s something my mom said to me that always helps me shoot for the stars…
        “Frank, you have this determination about you that you just don’t let anything get in your way. It’s incredible. I know you can do anything you set your mind to.” Even my sister once said to me, “You have more drive then I do.” Even though I want the same motivation for my sister, to have someone say these things to you is exactly what you need to be the best person you can be. Your daughter is going to grow up to be great in whatever she chooses to do and always remember back to this time and the advice you gave her. It made all the difference!

        On a side note, for Grad School, I’m going to be studying Computer Science. I’ve been wanting to learn programming for a while now and this will do the trick!

  10. This was a very moving post, and I found myself thinking about my own 11 yr old, and how she would have handled it very differently. Your daughter amazes me. I’m glad she took it for the lesson it was and learned from it instead of moping about the disappointment.

    Stopping in via the Bloggy Mom’s Writing Workshop (BMWW). Thank you for linking up!

    • Thank you! I told her recently about all the comments—one of them was even from her friend’s mother—and I was afraid she might feel it painful to read them. She basically told me that she was over it, she was fine, and she’ll try out again next year. She is amazingly resilient. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  11. Rejection and disappointment are tough lessons to learn. And it’s hard to watch our kids experience them on a level that really hurts their heart… especially when they’ve been working hard. I think you did her a great service by encouraging her! Kudos to you Mom! And to your daughter for opting to persevere!

  12. I think you did a great job. I love how you said “using logic to help her figure out how to navigate her own life.” I hope when I reach the stage where my son learns about disappointment, I can do the same.

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  14. thank you for the advice on my header. I am horrible with spelling and grammar, although reading and writing and English were always strong subjects of mine and passion, but I’m slightly dyslexic and would never get by without spell check. Waiting for the day they invent grammar check too 🙂

    I cannot wait for the day my little girl starts dance. I was a dancer myself, competitively till I was in high school and there is nothing I love more then being in the studio with the smell of resin. When we found out she had clubbed feet, the first thing I thought about was dance. Thankful for modern medicine and that they can straighten her feet so she too can hit the stage someday.

  15. You are a great mom! It is hard to help our children navigate through the world. I think you did a wonderful job! What you’re teaching your daughter is that failure is not in the getting knocked down but in the not getting back up. Winners always get back up!

    {{{hugs}}} there should be more mamas in the world like you!

  16. Oh my. I love this post, but it also brings out some of my greatest parenting fears. I feel so inadequate to deal with anything more than skinned knees and disappointment over not being allowed to have Swedish fish for dinner. I think you handled it beautifully by the way.

  17. This is one of the most difficult types of situation our children face and one of the hardest to deal with without letting our emotions as parents cloud us. I think you did an outstanding job!

  18. Ugh, I could feel your pain as I ready this. It’s hard to handle our own disappointments, but to watch our children suffer them and not be able to do anything? That’s heartbreaking. But, I love her fight! Add another dance class to try to improve . . . good for her!

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  20. Those moments are never forgotten, showing her that she had it in her will give her more strength in the future than you can imagine at the moment, awesome Mom moment! Disappointment IS such a tricky situation, but you made it into a beautiful moment.

    Stopping by from SITS 🙂

  21. I’m not a mom, but I remember being a kid and I remember the emotions, the small box of experience that we had, and the weekly emotional break downs.

    Whenever I see a kid snap at his/her parents, I’m shocked and then I’m empathetic. My boyfriend has a 14 year old son and he told me that parents have to learn to pick their battles. By coming down on them for little things, you don’t get to help them resolved with the big things.

    You are a fantastic mom.

  22. It hurts us as moms just as much to see our children disappointed. You gave amazing advice. I hope I am able to handle myself as well as you did if in a situation like yours. My four year old daughter is extremely temperamental and I don’t always find the right words to say. Maybe now I will. Thank you.

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