By: Rebecca Carrell
I was in fourth grade when Cabbage Patch dolls exploded onto the scene as the “must-have” toy of the eighties.
My classmates brought their dolls to school for show-and-tell, and I was instantly envious. The dolls, soft and plush, smelled like baby powder and promised happiness. Each one came with a birth certificate, a belly button, and Xavier Roberts’ signature splashed across their behind.
Oh, how I wanted one.
As Christmas approached, I formulated my plan:
Be really good.Write letter to Santa.Reiterate request when I sit on Santa’s lap at the mall.
On Christmas Eve, my mind refused to let me sleep. I knew, just knew that Santa wouldn’t disappoint me.
My two sisters and I tore through the pile of brightly colored packages and bows. I remember receiving The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, and I’m sure I got some clothes, but the most coveted item on my list was conspicuously absent.
No Cabbage Patch Kid.
And I was crushed.
Years later I look back and understand. I had two younger sisters who also wanted the dolls. But they cost a whopping forty dollars each, and in 1984 that was a large chunk of change for a family of five on a single income.
You’ll never guess what happened.
I lived through it.
My kids will, too.
This year, my husband and I are purposely and intentionally disappointing our kids for Christmas.
Reasons abound, but I’ll share a few.
My son wants an Xbox One so he can play Fortnite with his friends. The Xbox retails for $229 at Walmart, and we simply don’t roll that way.
My husband and I have decided that we are a non-video game house for the most part (save a few games on the family computer). This isn’t written in stone, and we might change our minds, but I know plenty of teachers and parents who wish the inventors of Fortnite had taken up origami instead of programming. I find it way too easy and far too tempting to let video games and tablet devices babysit my kids so I can get things done, so no gaming devices for now.
My daughter wants an iPhone X because, according to her, she’s “the only one at school who doesn’t have one!”
First of all, I doubt it.
Second of all, to quote myself, we don’t roll that way. My daughter does not need a device that costs the same amount of money as two community college classes.
Disappointment is Good
Disappointment breeds resilience. In an Amazon Prime, instant gratification society like ours, disappointment teaches valuable lessons of patience, persistence, and perseverance. Dr. Jim Taylor, blogger for PsychologyToday.com, says parents must resist the urge to protect their kids from setbacks and obstacles.
Your natural tendency when you see your children feeling badly is to try to make them feel better. Mollifying your children with excessive expressions of affection or by buying them gifts, though it may bring them some immediate relief and make you feel better, does far more harm than good. Writes the author Allison Armstrong: “Many parents today try too hard to smooth away life’s rough edges in the hopes of keeping disappointment at bay. . . . Children with no experience solving life’s little setbacks have a much harder time when they’re faced with the big ones.”
Life doesn’t always go the way we hope, and the chips tend to fall where they fall. Little disappointments today equip our children to navigate big disappointments later on.
Things Can’t Meet Our Deepest Need
Watching everyone else play with their Cabbage Patch Kids when I didn’t have one set me apart in an uncomfortable way. I didn’t want to be different; I wanted to be the same—a desire that didn’t go away when everyone outgrew their dolls.
I wanted Keds, not white KMart brand canvas shoes. I wanted Jordache jeans, not Lee. I wanted many things that my parents never gave me, and today I’m glad for it.
I understand the value of “things” because any “thing” that I wanted that fell outside of my parents’ budget I had to work for, save for, and purchase myself. But I also learned that “things” couldn’t meet the longings of my heart.
A few Christmases later, I just had to have a pair of Guess denim overalls. They were all the rage, and I knew that if I had them, I’d never need to ask for anything ever again as long as I lived.
Spoiler alert: I asked for a Forenza sweater from The Limited a few weeks later because all the cool kids had them and I needed one.
Humans are pack-people, created and wired for community, so naturally, we want to fit in. But God has not created us for this world. Peter, the apostle, wrote to the Jewish believers scattered across the Roman empire, saying, “Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT).
We, along with our children, will always feel a bit out of place here, for this world is not our home. We’re not supposed to get too comfortable—we are strangers passing through. By allowing our children to wrestle with this tension, we teach them not “to store up treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal,” Rather, as Jesus teaches us, we train them to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:19–21 NIV).
The temptation to keep our kids happy no matter the cost runs deep. I have given in out of guilt or exhaustion one too many times. I want my kids to like me. But I can’t let my insecurities rob my children of the chance to develop resilience, perseverance, and Christlikeness. We don’t grow in character in times of gain. Peter reminds us that suffering is the stuff that breeds strength:
And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world (1 Peter 1:5–7 NIV).
Merry Christmas, and if you’re worrying that your children might be disappointed come Christmas morning, be encouraged.
Disappointment might just be the best gift you give them.