What’s really going on behind family disappointment?
My family lived in a constant state of unacknowledged disappointment when I was growing up because I have only sisters, no brothers. Like a broken drinking glass lying on the kitchen floor, the lack of male offspring was a sad and irreversible reality. As a family, we talked about it under our breath, and the issue rarely rated a full conversation. But it felt like, somehow, we did not make the grade.
The story went that my Dad’s dearly-loved older brother, Laurence, went missing in action in Singapore during the war years. And ever since that tragedy, he’d wanted to name a son after him. With three girls in the family and another baby coming, there was much expectation during Mum’s final pregnancy. However, my beautiful blonde-haired-blue-eyed baby sister was not named for weeks. They’d so anticipated a baby boy, they had no idea what to call a baby girl!
Am I good enough?
The impact of that “failure”, was far-reaching. As she was growing up, my sister always felt as though she didn’t quite meet the mark. Because we older girls are all brunettes, the blonde-hair-blue-eyed look was quite different, although we do have a couple of rarely-seen cousins who match.
It turned out that those two factors – not a boy, and physically different – caused my sister to question her identity. Big time. Who am I? Do I even belong in this family? Is it my imagination when it feels as though Dad does not love me like the others? Am I good enough? Am I, in fact, adopted?
Dad’s disappointment in her, while not intentionally communicated, seemed to sneak into every conversation. It was only as adults that we began to understand what shaped her feelings of inadequacy. Later still, we started to understand why she felt distant from Dad, and why she spent years seeking male approval, often looking in all the wrong places.
Finally – we have a boy in the family!
Thankfully the situation was redeemed when that same sister produced Dad’s first grandson – after six granddaughters! By that stage our lack of male heirs had become the family joke. While my nephew was not named Laurence, there was a measure of healing that came as he grew up. My sister moved from the city to live in the same country town with Dad and my lovely step-mother, Betty. It gave Dad the opportunity to be proud of his male offspring, even if he was not the son he had envisaged, but a grandson. That young man broke the drought, and soon three more grandsons came along, two of them my own boys.
Our attitudes have such a huge impact on the way our children feel about themselves. Even the hidden ones. It’s not just a father’s mind-set, it can be a mother’s too. As the primary adults in a child’s life, parents are incredibly important keys in a person’s understanding of themselves and their identity.
I know for sure that Dad loved my sister, and he did get much better at showing it as he got older, However, I don’t think he ever understood how his initial disappointment made such a profound impact on her.
So here are SIX Ways to Help you Avoid a Family Story Steeped in Disappointment
1. Love unconditionally
This is so important. Make time to enjoy and love your kids, regardless of their achievements, their abilities, and their aspirations.
2. Think through some of your own attitudes
Do you have expectations of your kids that might be unrealistic? Long-held dreams? Hopes and desires for them that you never fulfilled for yourself? Be honest. These are good questions to write down and journal about. Sometimes, you make connections as you write, issues surface and problems fade away as you start to understand what happened.
3. Your own disappointments
Watch out for unexplained disappointment and unrest in your relationship with your kids. Be careful what the family story is around the conception and birth of a child. It could be that you are unwittingly giving them an unhelpful message. If necessary re-write and re-tell the usual story so that it is still truthful, but now more positive, without the negative undertones.
Take time to examine what’s going on for you. Again, write it down, and face it. Maybe it’s not that they lack – perhaps it is your expectations.
4. Build freedom into family life
Freedom! Of course, it’s still important to set appropriate boundaries. However, giving kids opportunity to be free to explore their own likes and dislikes, is critical. They love to have their good opinions validated, and they enjoy play and adventure.
5. Take lots of photos
We parents are so good at taking lots of photos of our eldest children as they reach their milestones, but younger children, especially the youngest often miss out. There is no excuse for not taking photos in this day of smart phones. Part of the problem for my younger sister is that there are very few photos of her as a baby.
At one level, I get that life with four children was very full for my parents to manage photos, as well as everything else. At another level, I wonder if this was evidence of some deep-seated, unspoken shame. Regardless of why this happened, one reason my sister suspected our parents had adopted her, in addition to those explained already, was because there were so few photos of her as a baby.
6. Develop their natural talents
Expectations are big things, becoming either stumbling blocks, or giving kids wings to fly. While your hopes and dreams for your children are valid, it’s so important they have the opportunity to choose their life’s path for themselves. Helping children develop their talents is part of the challenge, for us as well as for them.
Does an early interest in animals indicate veterinary science, or just a love of pets? If they are good with their hands, does this mean carpentry or neurosurgery? This article explains how you as a parent can help them work it out.
The Final Word
Disappointment in your children can have long-lasting, and heart-breaking outcomes. On your motherhood journey it’s always good to affirm, build-up, love and enjoy your children. You can read more about how to do that HERE. One day they will be young people, full of hope and expectation for the future. By intentionally choosing your responses, you can make sure they arrive at adulthood being proud of who they are, what they do and what they hope to achieve.
Can you identify any disappointments in your family as you were growing up? Have you had a chance to resolve them?