I so look forward to having grandchildren! (That isn't a subtle message to my son and daughter in law!) But the other day I was on a train – a steam train, as it happens, in the west country. And in the same carriage were some grandparents with their grandson. And the whole time it was, ‘No, sit down Kieran (his name wasn’t Kieran), no leave it alone Kieran, no why aren’t you listening to me? No don’t go out there I told you before Kieran. Come and sit by grand-dad. Well sit be me then,’ and so on, smoky mile after smoky mile.
And I commented to my travelling partner, as it struck me, that those grandparents had probably longed for grandchildren and for a nice relationship with their grandson, and what they were experiencing must have been such a disappointment.
Maybe he has better days.
Then I was at a meeting on Sunday when someone commented how many people are living with disappointment in their marriages – constant, ongoing disappointment that this wasn’t what they expected or signed up for. Mostly, it's hidden from view. But it’s hard to live with such daily destruction of your dreams.
Disappointment. There have been times when I’ve looked at a bunch of lively, attractive, intelligent, friendly teenagers and thought, ‘most of you will experience real disappointment in your lives, one way or another’. I’ve thought that because I’ve seen it, with earlier generations of wonderful young people seemingly full of such potential and seemingly deserving of such happy and fulfilling lives.
But life isn’t like that, is it?
I guess there must be people who find just what they were looking for, and live in untroubled contentment. But U2 didn’t, as they sang so beautifully (though I think they had a further message to convey in that song). I suspect most of us live with hidden or at least non-publicised disappointments. I’m amazed at the number of children I know with serious health conditions, much to the anguish of their loving parents. At the people now in their late forties whom I knew as teenagers back in the day before their first marriages failed. And there is no judgement in that truth.
The one compelling reason I’ve heard why school sports days should be fully competitive is because children have to learn to deal with disappointment. When they throw a fit because they can’t have what they desperately (in that moment) wanted in the shop, the wise parent continues to say ‘no’ having said it once, because that’s life (and because giving in teaches the deadly lesson that whining works because it's rewarded eventually – though I suppose that teaches another lesson - persistence - ‘if at first you don’t succeed… whine, whine and whine again!)
But my point is, disappointment, small and large, is part of life. The prevailing (and, I am pleased to see, now much more criticised) message in our culture that you deserve happiness and you deserve getting all you hope for and ‘follow your dreams’ because they will be fulfilled, just sets generations of young people up for selfishness and sadness.
Maybe we, the older generation, need to convey a message of ‘Embrace your Disappointments’. And point them to whatever we’ve discovered that enables us to live and cope and thrive.
I know where my help lies.