Allowing My Child to Learn From Disappointment


Allowing My Child to Learn From Disappointment - Columbia MomDisappointment was not what I sat down to write about when my 16-year-old daughter ran past me with a look of terror…

Every mommy instinct I have focused on all the horrible possibilities of what might be happening as Caroline rushed by. Kind of like that moment when your life flashes before your eyes, but different — more intense — because as a mom there must be something you can do, you must do, to make it better. Mommy’s there to take away the pain right?

Well, not always….

After making a mental note to stay calm, I followed her into the bathroom to find her scrubbing frantically at the flower fairy costume she has been working on for three weeks to take to her next drama competition.

Through her tears, she explained, “I spilled hot chocolate all over my costume. The fitting is tomorrow. It’s ruined. I’ll never finish.”

Sure enough, floating in the sink was the taffeta pink petals that make up the skirt, absolutely covered in dark chocolate stains. In true mommy fashion, I rushed to the store and bought six different stain removers to try and salvage the fabric. It was the best option we had. With rugby practice, honors courses, SAT prep, drama practice and her competition less than two weeks away, there was little chance she would have time to do the costume over. (Sewing is not something I can do.)

“Please, please,” I thought, “let one of these miracle stain removers work!”

As we tested each one out, all I could think about was the work Caroline had put into that costume over the last few weeks. Each petal had to be sewn individually and attached to the band of the skirt. She sketched her design, borrowed a sewing machine and taught herself to use it. It was an enormous undertaking, and I was — and still am — soooo proud of her. With the hand-made flower crown already finished, she was sewing on the pearls when the tragedy occurred.

Alas, the costume could not be saved. I was heart-broken for her, and she was ruthlessly beating herself up over the accident. She had failed. She was letting people down. She was so stupid. You know the litany. Most women do.

Here was my moment, my test as a mother.

Do I treat this with firm encouragement to keep going or do I console her over the failure? I don’t want her to be a quitter, but sometimes things don’t work out. I just could not stand that she was beating herself up so badly.

I saw myself in that moment.

I live with failures, mistakes, for years before I finally, at least on the surface, put them to rest. Even then, they rise up to torment me in the night when I cannot sleep. It has taken me 40 years to limit this behavior. I do not want that for my daughter.

I could hear all the judgments and ‘should haves’ going through my head as she verbally processed her way through the situation. I said little and listened a lot. By midnight, she had decided that she would not try to recreate the costume. She was proud of how much she had learned from the process and vowed to try again next year. As we said goodnight, I was confident she would not lay awake and berate herself.

Children do not stop needing their parents as they grow. They still need to be guided, encouraged and sometimes, just heard.

I was pleased with her reaction after it was all said and done. She dealt with this failure with positivity and calm decision making, after all the tears.

And as for me, I grew a little as well. If she can make it through life’s disappointments with her head held high, perhaps I can too.

Have you had to teach your child a life lesson through disappointment?


  1. Lori, this is beautiful. Thank you for this encouragement! It is so hard on us moms when we can’t fix things, but living with disappointment is an important life lesson, too!


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