Growing up, I was… spirited. I used the phrase, “It’s not fair!” so much that, 30 years later, I still cannot live it down. My scream was labeled “The Katie Alarm.” Readers, I burst my own eardrum. Yes. You read that right.
The most mystifying part? I have no memory of it ever working. Four years of tantrums and my parents were stalwart stoics through it all. I shrieked and cried, yet my parents would calmly point out that I was experiencing a daily dose of disappointment.
You can imagine how much I enjoyed that.
Flash forward. I am now a mother to two spirited little girls. The oldest should have been named Karma because let’s just say what goes around comes around. And she’s only 5.
She is sneaky and straightforward. She is commanding and emotional. She is whip-smart and immature. She is literal and imaginative. She is wild and domestic. She is selfish and generous. She is a brat and a darling. She is a bully and a guardian. And she can scream.
And so, much to my dismay, I catch myself turning into my own parents and pointing out her daily dose of disappointment. She does not like it any more than I did at her age.
As an adult, I have freely and frequently shared this daily dose concept and my long history with it. I find it humorous. Imagine my surprise when I learned that a friend took some issue with the principal. My friend felt that it implied a callous disregard for a child’s feelings. I respect this friend’s experience and journey, and yet I clung tightly to my own practice without quite being able to explain why.
Then, I participated in a virtual webinar from the inimitable Tarita Preston, a remarkable and empowering executive coach based in Cincinnati. She was dropping truth bombs left and right, but the one that jumped out at me was this:
“Disappointment is not pain. Disappointment is okay.”
It stuck out to me because this time it wasn’t a child that needed to hear it. It was me.
This last year has been hard. Having two children under 6 is always hard, but of course, this year of quarantine has exacerbated all challenges. We’re sick of COVID, we’re sick of our house, and we’re sick of each other. And the stress of it all has manifested in a six-month-long potty training regression in my kindergartener. I won’t go into all the messy details, but let’s just say it is a persistent, daily issue with no clear end in sight. She shows no concern for the mess, no motivation from rewards, no regard for consequences.
And every day, as I change wet underwear for the third or fourth time, I struggle not to take it personally. Every day I have to fight to keep my cool as I perceive each accident to be some sort of targeted act of defiance against me. Many days I fail, and become an angry, yelling, tantrum-throwing mother shouting to the heavens, “It’s not fair!”
It’s not fair. It is deeply disappointing. It is my daily dose of disappointment.
Disappointment is not pain. I am, of course, deeply disappointed that I can’t crack this code with my child yet. But this struggle is not all we are as a parent and child. We play board games together. She shares her curiosity with me. We play hide and seek. She imitates me, for better or for worse. We have dance parties. She nurtures her younger sister. We build structures. She constructs art. We make play dough spaghetti. She puts on shows using the couch as her stage. We read books before bed. She kisses me and holds her lips to my cheek until I giggle. We always share one extra tuck-in.
Disappointment is okay. It is normal. It is only what we do with disappointment that can cause pain. When I focus less on my disappointment and more on the marvelous moments I share with my daughter, life is no longer unfair – it is lovely.