"Disappointed" is a loaded word, isn't it?
From a young age we all grow to fear our parents uttering those soul-crushing words - "I'm not angry. I'm just disappointed". Our parents could shout at us for hours on end and nothing would compare to the intolerable, sick-to-the-stomach feeling of knowing that they are disappointed in us. Even as an adult, we dread hearing those words.
I've been thinking lately about what my daughter could do to disappoint me. She's only two at the moment, so it's a little soon to be using the "I'm just disappointed" phrase on her, but I wonder if there will be times in the future when those words will cross my lips. What will be the catalyst? What could she do that will leave me not angry, but disappointed?
I had a look at forums and articles from other parents, talking about what would make them disappointed in their children. Honestly, I was a little bit shocked. However, it's helped me put a list together of things that I would categorically not be ashamed of my daughter for doing.
- Getting pregnant at a young age
- Posing topless
- Not going to university
- Failing exams
- Telling us that she was gay/bi/anywhere on the LGBT spectrum.
- Trying drugs
- Joining the army
- Deciding against getting married/having children
These are all things that parents have stated they'd be disappointed if their children did. I can understand having a range of emotions about it - I'd be nervous for my daughter if she got pregnant at a young age, because I've been there and it's tough. I'd be scared if she decided to join the army, but I'd be proud of her for knowing her mind and wanting to achieve something. I'd be concerned if she was drinking heavily or getting into hard drugs, but that's a time for support, not turning your back on the child that has "disappointed" you.
With some of those things, it blows my mind that parents would be disappointed in their child for it. Coming out? She'd definitely get funny looks from us, but only because we wouldn't expect her to come out to us if she was straight. All she needs to do is bring her partner around for dinner; if they compliment my cooking they're fine by me. The same goes for deciding against marriage or kids. She doesn't need to announce it to us - it's her life. Far from being disappointed, I'd be proud that she didn't feel the need to bow to any societal pressure in that way.
As for posing topless... well, this post was partially inspired by the backlash to Emma Watson's recent photoshoot for Vanity Fair. People are insisting that she can't call herself feminist because of it. The overwhelming response is that they're disappointed in her.
She's responded by pointing out that it was her choice to model for those pictures, and that the publicity she appears in has no bearing whatsoever on her feminist values - but I still can't wrap my head around the people who are disappointed in someone they don't even know, for the sake of photos she chose to model for. I wouldn't be disappointed in my daughter if she made that choice too. No-one likes to think of their child growing up and modelling topless, but would people be disappointed in their child for making a choice that made them happy? I'd tell her in no uncertain terms to get out if it looked the least bit sketchy, but disappointed?
I don't think I could be disappointed in my daughter. I could, however, be disappointed in myself, for the part I play in my daughter's future "disappointing" acts. If we are responsible for much of our children's upbringing, discipline and even the choices they make, shouldn't we share some of the responsibility when it goes awry? Here are the things my daughter could do that my husband and I would be disappointed in ourselves for:
- Not knowing the difference between "your" and "you're".
- Not knowing the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek.
- Liking the "Twilight" series.
- Supporting Aston Villa.
- Pledging allegiance to the Lannisters.
- Stating that the Harry Potter movies are better than the books.
- Wearing Crocs in a non-ironic fashion.
- Wearing Crocs. Full stop.
I'm being facetious (mostly), but it's true. If I found out that she was a bully or a bigot or a criminal, I'd be angry at her - but I'd be disappointed in myself, for going wrong somewhere - whether that's encouraging her behaviour, not disciplining properly or not seeking support for her when she needed it. As parents, it is our responsibility to raise children who grow into functioning, law-abiding, kind adults. We can't spend eighteen years modelling and reinforcing behaviour for them, and then turn our backs on them the moment they do something we don't like, and say "You have disappointed me". We all have a part to play. I don't do parent-shaming, but I do believe in taking responsibility for the role we play in our children's development.
I have no doubt there will be plenty of times ahead where I am scared for my daughter, or angry at her, or frustrated with her. But I will never be disappointed in her.
Unless she becomes a vegan. That's a dealbreaker*.