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90s FAMILY : Dealing With Dissatisfaction

February 01, 1995|KRISTINA SAUERWEIN

Experts offer the following tips to help disappointed parents and their children:

* Most important, being a disappointed parent doesn't mean being a bad parent, says Steven W. Vannoy, author of "The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children." While researching his book, Vannoy estimated that 80% of the nation's parents, of all economic levels and ethnicities, struggle with disappointment toward their children.

At some point, he says, "parents with the best intentions can wish they had never become parents. We all have this incredible dream that we'll raise perfect kids. But somewhere between 6 and 24 months, we realize that the dream has faded."

This becomes a problem when parents' disappointment is chronic, Vannoy says. "That's when parenting becomes a hassle, another endless fire."

* Vannoy's telltale sign that it's a problem? If parents frequently nag a child--whether 12, 18, 22 or 42--about mundane tasks, such as brushing teeth, remembering a school lunch, wearing a jacket. And if these are the same parents who have entrusted a child with adult duties, such as caring for the house while parents take a weekend trip.

"Kids have to learn the little things by themselves," he says. "They need firm guidance for the heavier responsibilities. . . . Respect kids. Show that you trust them. (Constant nagging) will tell kids that they're irresponsible brats, and then they can become that way. Who wants to raise a jerk?"

* Realize that once a child is born, Vannoy says, he's observing and emulating your attitudes.

While doing a radio show, he once heard about a 13-year-old Ohio boy who pretended he was 12 so he could get into the movies for a cheaper price. His mother told him how disappointed she was in him and then yelled, "No son of mine is going to be a liar."

The next day, Mom's transmission blew out two days after its warranty expired. When the mechanic told her he could fudge the date so she wouldn't have to pay $2,000, she hugged him. Her son said, "I guess there's a $2,000 limit on honesty."

Simply put, Vannoy says, "Don't be disappointed if a child is only picking up what you do."

* Parents need to do some daily soul-searching, says Jennifer Munnell Rapaport, a licensed clinical psychologist. "You need to figure out why you're disappointed."

For instance, why would parents be livid if a normally well-behaved teen-ager parties an hour past her curfew?

Rapaport asks: Is it because she's an hour late? Is it catching a "perfect" daughter being not-so-perfect? Is it because you worried about her safety? Nervous that someone shot her in a drive-by? Or is it because confronting your mortality makes you jittery and jealous, especially since you no longer have the vitality to party all night and then work the next morning?

Once parents figure out the reasons, they should explain them to the child, Rapaport says. The child will be less likely to take the disappointment personally.

* David, a 17-year-old Los Angeles-area high school senior, raised his grades 10% in one semester. Granted, his original marks were Fs and Ds. "My parents let me know they weren't happy. They kept pressuring me," he says. "So I raised every single grade. And they still weren't happy."

He says he'll never be able to satisfy them. "I know this for a fact, and it makes me want to give up completely. I'll yell at them. I'll just stay in my room and ball up into a shell. I hate it when my parents tell me they're disappointed in me. I'd rather have them hit me. . . . I wish they'd encourage me."

This is precisely why parents must summon the maturity to accept the child for who they are, psychologist Myrna Silton-Goldstein says.

"Praise them for even the smallest improvement," she says. "For every job well done."

* Parents would be less inclined to express disappointment if they think of people, perhaps even their parents, who are disappointed in them, says Michael Johnston, counseling psychologist at Cal State Long Beach. "They'll remember that it doesn't feel very good."

* Forgive yourself for feeling disappointed, says Megan Schowengerdt, a mother of one and a marriage and family therapist-intern in North Hollywood.

"It's inevitable a child will disappoint us," she says. "Just like it's inevitable that we will disappoint a child."

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