Disappointing your mom and dad is the hardest part of growing up – even for grown adults! I’m over 40, and I recently disappointed my mom by deciding to spend my Christmas holidays volunteering at a camp for adults with developmental disabilities.
“I dreaded telling my mom that I was dropping out of school,” says Paulie on 7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents. “She isn’t manipulative or controlling, but she wants me to have a secure future. I know she loves me and wants the best but I also knew that I needed to do something different with my life. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own business. My mother was distraught when I told her. She made no effort to hide her disappointment and tried to say anything she could to change my mind. She made good arguments but I stuck with my idea. She adjusted. I’m successful but she still thinks I made a mistake.”
Paulie says the best way to deal with your mom’s disappointment is to let her do and say what she needs. You can’t change her, but you can make the best decisions for you. Find good, rational arguments for your decisions. Stick with your plans, and find people who do believe in you.
When I told my mom I wouldn’t be spending Christmas with the family, she wasn’t just disappointed…she blamed herself. She couldn’t understand why I wanted to volunteer at a camp over the holidays or how I could be so selfish (but she didn’t say that. I just felt those words emanating from her pores).
Dealing with my mom’s disappointment wasn’t easy. She was hurt and angry, and I knew she probably wouldn’t forgive me quickly or easily. And I was right. But it was worth it.
How to Deal With Your Mom’s Disappointment
My Blossom Tips for dealing with a disappointed mother are woven through my camp story…
“I see Santa’s sleigh and reindeer,” yelled the Camp Director and Chief Elf as he stuck his head out the window and squinted up at the starry winter sky. “He’ll be here in a couple of minutes – and Mrs. Claus is coming, too!”
They screamed and sang, skipped and stomped their feet – over 100 campers with physical and developmental disabilities, bopping around the dining hall. I was clapping and cheering as loud as anyone. I couldn’t ignore my racing heart and goosebumps – maybe Santa had a surprise for me, too!
Every year, Easter Seals Alberta organizes a Christmas Camp in Bragg Creek, for adults with disabilities. When I volunteered from December 23-26, my responsibilities included helping the campers with meals, crafts, outdoor activities, and daily living. I slept in a dorm with other female volunteers. It was the first time I lived, ate, and celebrated Christmas with people I’d just met.
1. Accept that you may be making a mistake
Driving to camp from Calgary on those snowy Canadian highways and byways, I just knew I’d made a huge mistake. I was disappointing my mom for no good reason! I had little experience with people with disabilities, and my heart broke at the sight of creatures in pain or disabled in any way. I knew I’d leave Christmas Camp feeling sad and depressed about those poor handicapped people and their unfulfilled lives.
I also feared complete physical and emotional exhaustion after camp – there’d be no free time to read, write, exercise or snooze. I’m an introvert, I love being alone. My holidays wouldn’t be peaceful or quiet, relaxing or filled with joy, love or unexpected gifts. What was I thinking?
On the upside, I was reasonably certain the food would be decent. And Christmas Camp might be something to write home about. But still…volunteering for four nights with complete strangers and vulnerable adults with disabilities in the middle of winter in the middle of nowhere? No wonder my mom was so disappointed in me.
As I wrestled with doubt and the temptation to turn around and go home, the highway narrowed into a small deserted country road. Snow-white and freezing cold.
2. Keep going despite your fear
The closer I got to Bragg Creek, the bigger the regrets grew. What was I thinking, driving alone at the crack of dawn on icy roads covered with blowing snow in my lightweight sports car without a cell phone? My mom was right. I was disappointing her for nothing. Worse, I’d get into a huge car accident, and have to deal with both my mom’s disappointment and a broken body.
Onward Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen…Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen…
At Christmas Camp, one of my daily duties was to wake Sharon, help her wash up and get dressed. She was a 54 year-old woman with Down syndrome, and has since passed on. But boy, was she alive that Christmas! The first morning I hesitated before waking Sharon. I was reluctant to wake anyone up at any time of day, much less a woman 20 years my senior with Down syndrome and a mysterious bathroom routine.
I poked gingerly at her sleeping bag. All I could see was one short gray curl poking out. “Sharon?” I asked softly. “Time to get up?”
She didn’t move. What if she’d died overnight? People with Down syndrome didn’t usually live long into old age, did they? The cabin was bustling with other stretching, yawning campers in various stages of dress. We’d be late for breakfast! I nudged Sharon’s sleeping bag again, a little more firmly. A muffled sound — a death gasp? A giggle? Suspecting the latter, I poked a couple more times and sang her name, drawing out the last “n.”
“Sharrronnnnnnnnnnn, wake up, sleepyhead sleepy camper Sharonnnnnn…” Both laughter and Sharon came tumbling out of the sleeping bag.
“Hey, stop that!” she said, her eyes bright and alert. “I was sleeping. Is Santa coming today?”
Other mornings she’d say, “I’m too old to get up this early.” But she’d always ask about Santa first, and she never dawdled in bed. She’d beckon me closer so she could give me a soft, dry kiss on my cheek. Every morning I fetched Sharon’s glasses, brushed her short gray curls, and helped her insert her teeth. We’d get dressed.
3. Hold on to the positive moments
Breakfast and other meals were served in the main dining hall. I hefted trays of delicious home cooking (I was right about the food), ladled steaming soups and stews, poured apple juice and iced tea, served warm apple pie and whipped cream. The food wasn’t disappointing, but nothing beats a mother’s homemade Christmas dinner.
Sharon sat with her boyfriend Stanley most meals, chastising him when he flirted with the other girls. She especially disliked when he asked someone else for a kiss on the cheek. But Stanley always won her heart back in short order. It didn’t take much; Sharon was naturally forgiving, light-hearted and loving.
4. Move through the difficult feelings
Not every camper was as easy to care for. The more experienced volunteers served the high-needs campers, transferring them from wheelchair to toilet, changing their diapers and pads. Some campers needed night-time help, such as being turned over couple of hours. Other campers needed meal-time assistance as they sipped puréed turkey, mashed potatoes and veggies through a straw.
It was hard sometimes, but it made my problem of dealing with my mom’s disappointment much less difficult.
I never felt sorry for any of those adults with physical and mental disabilities, because they never felt sorry for themselves. Many campers thanked me several times a day for pushing their wheelchairs through the snow or helping them find their mittens, scarves and toques. They never hesitated to ask for help with the Christmas crafts, sleigh rides, cookie decorating and tricky gift-opening dilemmas. They were happy and grateful. Their lives weren’t perfect or easy — and they knew it. But these campers also knew when life was truly, deeply good.
Driving home on those snowy Alberta roads, I was exhausted and exhilarated. I didn’t know if my mom would still be disappointed in me, but it didn’t matter. I was proud of myself.
Are you dealing with your boyfriend’s disappointed parents? You might find How to Stop Your Boyfriend’s Mother From Ruining Your Relationship helpful.
Your turn: think about the reason your mom is disappointed in you. Does it make it easier to deal with her disappointment, knowing that your experience might be an amazing adventure?
Sometimes disappointing people — even our own mothers — is worth it. And, sometimes the only way to know for sure is to commit to the experience and move forward…even when you’re scared, unsupported, and uncertain about the outcome.
If disappointment is the least of your problems with your mom, read 9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Leave Home.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.