If you are a human being with your own thoughts and beliefs, chances are you’ve already disappointed your parent(s). It’s generally true that as we become older, the people who brought us into this world realize—in one way or another—that we have different ways of looking at it than they do. This can lead to situations where our decisions, actions, or proclamations shock or disappoint the people we care about most.
Growing up, I quickly realized that my super traditional, very Christian parents and I disagreed on many different aspects of my life: How my hair should look, what music I could bump, what I ought to study in college. It didn’t help that I was a bit of a wild child who could be very honest about what I thought of my parents’ rules or expectations. In my intimate and extended family, I quickly became known as the “problem” teen with “sticky fingers” who liked to kiss boys, listen to angry rock music, and hoard R-rated movies under my bed. What I saw as simple experimentation often raised huge red flags to my parents. Ultimately, I wanted to live my life by my own standards, but I also dreaded revealing a version of myself that my parents might not be proud of.
I can see now that my mom and dad wanted the best for me, even when their idea of what constituted “the best”—and how I might achieve it—differed from mine. You may think you’re living your best life with a tongue ring or bright magenta hair (and you may be right!), but your parent(s) may see the exact opposite. Those mismatching standards may birth a situation in which you have to deal with the Big Disappointed Elephant in the room. Hearing “I am so disappointed in you” stings, even if that belly piercing/text message/midnight adventure seemed like a good idea an hour/two days/a week ago (and still kinda does, to be honest).
I never intend to disappoint my parents (who does?), but I’ve learned to deal with that reality when it happens. Sometimes, things aren’t settled so neatly, but I’m able to walk away from the situation understanding my parents’ views having related my own. I always count that as a win.
If you’ve disappointed your parent(s) recently, or are pondering an action that may disappoint them in the future, here are some things to remember as you build a game plan for dealing with the fallout. To the Disappointment Dome!
1. Expect the unexpected.
If you’re still deciding on whether to do that thing that might disappoint your parent(s), take a moment to think about potential consequences—your family’s resounding disappointment may be just one. Depending on your actions, you could be facing situations involving the police, your teachers, other authority figures, friends and their parents…the list goes on. It’s impossible to cover every eventuality, but try—imagine what could even possibly go wrong: The magenta hair dye comes out a bright green; you actually get into the college your parents didn’t know you applied to; your piercing gets infected; your little prank turns into a high-speed car chase; you get caught while Super Cute Tutor is “teaching” you “algebra.” Once you’ve gone through the eventualities, it’s up to you to decide if you’re equipped to deal with the fallout and to anticipate how your parent(s) may handle things. You could be met with explosive anger, resounding silence, or some mix of the two.
I’m an anxious person, so this step is a default for me. If I have time, I usually make a list of Everything Bad Thing That Could Possibly Happen. I did this when I snuck out of my parents’ house for the first time, and the first time I hid my report card. I imagined my mother finding my empty bed in the dead of night, or stumbling upon my crumpled report card in the bottom of my backpack. Then I visualized how I might handle a confrontation from her: what I would say, how I would say it, and what I could do in the aftermath. Sometimes, I was wrong about her reaction, but it helped to have considered all of the angles—even the ridiculous ones that were unlikely to ever happen.
2. Consider your decision.
No matter what the decision was or is, you had your reasons. What were they? Are they justifiable in some way? The answers to these questions will be the foundation to your argument. They’re proof that you thought carefully about your actions. Since you can expect your parents to ask (or shriek) “What were you thinking?” somewhere down the line—usually out of a mix of anger and genuine curiosity—this is your chance to make a case for your very conscious, very serious decision-making skills. “I don’t know *shrug*” doesn’t help as much as “I thought my secret, super cute tutor could help with my test scores,” or “I used all of our data talking to my best friend in London because I’ve been feeling super lonely” does. Try crafting a list of talking points you can refer to—this act alone make you feel more confident about what you’ve done, and maybe also help you understand more about yourself and your impulses.
When I was 18 and still considering colleges, I ended up giving my parents a mini-presentation on why I was not going to Prestigious University That None of Us Could Believe I Got Into. I knew my parents were focused on the university’s name and reputation, but I convinced them that there were other important factors to consider, like loans, student body demographics, and classroom size. Eventually, they were able to see that I was taking my future as seriously as they were, and to support my choice.
Disclaimer: You could present the best, most amazing reasoning in the world and still face punishment. But the aim here isn’t to escape punishment, it’s to demonstrate that you thought about what you did before doing it. Your parents may not like your decision or even acknowledge the autonomy you wielded to make it, but you can speak to that little part of their parent reptile brain that respects good decision-making skills. Once I was in college and out of her house, my mother admitted that while she didn’t always love my decisions, she was proud that she’d “raised a little hellion who knew how to make them”—that’s a direct quote. Your parents may never see your decision-making skills as valid, or may take some years to recognize them. Focus on showing that you are a thoughtful, careful individual who makes decisions after you’ve considered your options and all possible consequences.