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Carolyn Hax: Teach kids to deal with disappointment

Sun., July 27, 2014

Hi, Carolyn: I am 44 with five children, 12, 11, 10, 7, 6. I am the youngest of four siblings. All of my brother’s and sisters’ children are 16-32, some with children of their own. My dad passed away about four years ago and everyone sort of went their own way, even though we all live within 15 miles of each other.

My nephew is getting married on New Year’s Eve. They are inviting 80 people, but kids are not allowed. The wedding is in the evening and takes away from my own family traditions.

I was thinking of just going to the wedding and then heading home to celebrate with my own family. We have our own celebration with a fun dinner menu along with fireworks.

Do you have any advice? – Aunt’s Feelings Are Hurt

I can see why you’re so disappointed. It’s not just that your kids are excluded from a wedding they’d hoped to attend, but your family is drifting apart. Those are two kinds of bad news.

Bad news doesn’t have to be the last word on this, though – and you’re in complete control of what that last word can be.

Specifically, instead of making this about a wedding, or about your siblings, you can make it even more important: You can make it about raising your kids well.

To that end, you can model for your kids a great way of handling disappointment: by not taking things personally. “I know you’re sad about the wedding, and I’m sad too. But couples have a lot of things to juggle when they’re planning a wedding, like where to have it and how much to spend and whom to include or exclude, since they can’t have everyone.”

And, you can teach them flexibility: You love your New Year’s tradition but, if it’s not feasible for you to get home in time for it, you can show your kids what it looks like to live without it. “Things come up sometimes that we can’t control. We’ll do our thing next year, but this year we need to go to Plan B.” Then you invite your kids to help you figure out a kid-pleasin’ Plan B as a family.

If you have any doubts on the value of this one, please recall all the times people struggle in this space with their family’s expectations: “I want to spend Christmas with my family but my fiance has never missed a Christmas with his folks” or “I’m broke and exhausted and can’t face the long flight home, but my family is freaking out that I’m skipping Thanksgiving” or etc. Having traditions is wonderful and important, but showing kids that family love transcends tradition is … transcendent.

Your family is drifting, and you’re sad about that, so do something about it. Since pushing back on the wedding will only accelerate the family’s dispersal, open your arms and pull in: Go to the wedding without your kids and with a smile, and then do one better. Tell the couple your kids are excited about the marriage and want to invite them over for a celebratory dinner. Do this after the wedding so it doesn’t appear to be a ploy for an invitation – but don’t wait that long to reach out to your extended family in other ways.

In other words, turn this narrow exclusion into inspiration for a broader view of inclusion. Your kids, and you, stand to carry away from it a lot more than memories of a long pew sit followed by overdressed adults gabbing around a buffet.


 

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