The other day I was feeling pretty down. When my son asked me what was wrong, I was honest with him. "I'm just disappointed that I didn't get the job I applied for," I explained. I admit that sometimes I am tempted to shield this kind of information from my kids, but I also feel like that would be doing them a disservice. Life is full of disappointments that can serve as an opportunity to learn and grow, but only if we allow for it. That is why I share my failures just as often as I share my successes with my three sons.
When my sons were very young, I didn't tell them much about what was going on in my life, or about my adult problems. I did tell them that "Mom is doing her best and makes mistakes sometimes." As they grew older and became more able to understand how the world works, I decided it was time to be more open with them.
It started when I noticed that my oldest son was aware of some of my successes in the publishing world, and would make comments about how "popular" my articles were. He knew that something I had written had gone viral, but I was quick to let him know that the attention I was receiving was not all positive — far from it, actually. I didn't shy away from explaining about internet trolls, and how some people will write things online that they would probably never say to your face. I told him that while the attention was good for my career, it was still very hurtful to me when people would attack me and my work. I also let him know that my job is full of rejection, that my pitches are not always accepted and that sometimes I work really hard on something only to have my hopes dashed for one reason or another. He seemed to mull that over and offered me sympathy and encouragement.
It's important to me that my kids know that sometimes even your best may not be enough, but that it's how you handle disappointment and failure and what you do after that really matters. Sometimes, I am tempted to gloss over my struggles so as not to take away from the magic of my children's childhood, but kids are smarter and stronger than we give them credit for. No one gets through life without hardships — even children — and it's up to us to model a healthy way to handle that disappointment.
It's easy to forget that kids have bad days too. We want our kids to always be happy, but that is not realistic, after all: we are not always happy either! I was reminded of this recently when, after asking my son repeatedly why he was upset, he finally told me, "I'm just in a bad mood! Aren't I allowed to be in a bad mood once in a while?" The truth is, we are all allowed to fail or to be in a bad mood once in a while. It is all part of being human.
Life can be challenging, but sometimes things do go your way, especially when you work really hard. That is why I also share my successes with my kids (and what it took to get there) so we can celebrate together. I tell them how good it feels to get an email from a reader, to feel like something I wrote connected with someone. I tell them that I feel blessed to have a job that I enjoy, and that the good always outweighs the bad.
Opening a dialogue with my kids about my failures and triumphs has been a positive experience with an added benefit — my kids are sharing more with me, too. They tell me when things are not going their way and are proud of themselves for persevering, and that feels like the greatest success of all.