Don’t ever tell your children they disappoint you


Did you hear about the guy last week who wrote to his three children?  He signed it off  “… bitterly bitterly disappointed, Dad”. Here are my thoughts on why you should never tell your children you are disappointed with them.

I read that and the first thing that I thought was that he needs to take a good look at himself as a father.  Surely any parent who writes a letter like that has failed and should be disappointed in himself, not his children.   This is the letter in its entirety:

Dear All Three

With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.

It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us. We don’t ask for your sympathy or understanding — Mum and I have been used to taking our own misfortunes on the chin, and making our own effort to bash our little paths through life without being a burden to others. Having done our best — probably misguidedly — to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them in turn take up their own banners and provide happy and stable homes for their own children.

Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting. Which of you, with or without a spouse, can support your families, finance your home and provide a pension for your old age? Each of you is well able to earn a comfortable living and provide for your children, yet each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement. Far from your children being able to rely on your provision, they arefaced with needing to survive their introduction to life with you as parents.

So we witness the introduction to this life of six beautiful children — soon to be seven — none of whose parents have had the maturity and sound judgment to make a reasonable fist at making essential threshold decisions. None of these decisions were made with any pretence to ask for our advice.

In each case we have been expected to acquiesce with mostly hasty, but always in our view, badly judged decisions. None of you has done yourself, or given to us, the basic courtesy to ask us what we think while there was still time finally to think things through. The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn’t for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashes from one cock-up to the next. It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven, and then helplessly to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don’t want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it’s not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won’t do it by simply whingeing and saying you don’t like it. You’ll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn’t possible, or you simply can’t be bothered, then I rest my case.

I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.


I am just appalled that any parent would write that to anybody.   Children who are talking to their mum about problems in their lives being berated.    How does he know categorically that the marriage failure could have been the total fault of his child and not as a result of a failing by the other party?

Not having a “fulfilling career based on your education”.   What the hell does that imply?  That, presumably they went to private school and maybe university and are now not doing some mega bucks job in the city?

What happened to just wanting our children to be happy?  Would he rather his children stayed in loveless, maybe even abusive, marriages just to keep HIM happy?  Do a job they despise, just so their bank accounts satisfy dinner party guests at daddy’s house.

Is it not our job, as parents, to “listen to your miserable woes”?   I love that my children come to me with a question or concern.  They might not take my advice but at least they asked me for it.  And they know that I will respect their desire to make their own choice, and possibly mistakes, but that I will be here to pick them up afterwards.

He has grand children yet where is the joy?  Where is the thanks for that?   The love.  It is certainly not evident in that letter.

What a shocking approach to parenting this letter appears to be.    Not a shred of love comes from this letter to his children.

All I want for my children is to be happy and content.   I couldn’t give a fig if the marry and divorce and re marry ten times, as long as they are happy.   Or if they go to university or empty bins.  I don’t care.

And what is important is that my three know that.  They know Mr B and I are not insisting they go to university “just because you must, you have had a good education”.    We are not insisting they get high flying jobs.    We are bringing them up to know we are here for them, no matter what.

Are these children a failure?  Or is he the failure?  Does he have impossibly high expectations?  I certainly think so.

We forget as parents that the things we say and do can have long lasting effects.  A throwaway line said in jest can actually really hurt.  I addressed some of those in a letter to 30 year old me that I wrote a while ago.

I seriously hope these three children never have to do the same.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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  • What amazes me is his arrogant failure to realise that if all his children have failed so spectacularly in life, it is a reflection on his own parenting skills. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the same if just one of his children had failed to follow the path he had in mind for them – you can have a rotten apple in any barrel – but for them all to go that way, there has to be an underlying reason, and that reason is the parenting, the common link between all those children.

    • Agreed. But have they failed? Or are they actually quite content?

      I didn’t go to university. I gave up a well paid job to earn nothing. I got divorced with three children under 7.

      In this guy’s eyes that makes me a failure.

  • Wow. That is a shocking letter. When all kids turn out “badly” like the father claims, the only ones to blame are the parents.

  • My father in law is bitterly disapointed with my husband, his first born son. Simply because he (and we) haven’t done things with our lives the way HE thinks we should have. He doesn’t approve of me, he doesn’t approve of our choice of where we live, that I work part time, that C hasn’t got a “better” job (he has a great job, he’s doing well, he’s been promoted, given a pay rise recently, his senior management think he’s wonderful, it’s just very stressful, FIL thinks that he should find another one – in this difficult financial time??) He doesn’t approve of the fact that we are sending our kids to state not private school, doesn’t like the church we go to, I could go on… He wrote C a simillar letter when C left South Africa aged 21 to come to the UK, (he was so desperate to get away from FiL) and even now, 17 years later, it still stings when I think about it, and the pain it caused C. We don’t rely on our in-laws for anything, we’ve never asked them for a penny, or any emotional support, simply because we know the criticism that would come if we did. I cannot imagine writing such a letter to my kids. If his children are such a disapointment to him, maybe he needs to look at why? He was the one who parented them. Such bitterness is horrible.

    • Karen your husband sounds amazing.

      I mentioned in a previous post a book called “I am okay, you are okay” and the philosophy that if we are not happy with ourselves we project that unhappiness. Sounds to me like your FIL has issues with his own parenting skills / upbringing that need to be addressed.

      Very sad as he is the one missing out on being an amazing grand dad.

  • Oh my good God…… in total shock! What decent parent would think these things, ok we probably all have our moments where deep down we think these things but who the HELL would say them out loud let along post them ONLINE!!!!! I would love to see his three children write a letter in reply, bet it would throw a different light on him as a parent.

    I have three older step kids, and to be honest there have been times when I wanted to shake one of them and shout “what are you thinking?” at her, but seeing as she is 2 years older than me at 40 years old with 4 daughters I don’t have any right to voice any opinion on her life choices. All I can do is be there for our grandkids if they need us and be there to pick up the pieces again when life goes tits up!

    Hope you are feeling better soon T xxx

  • That’s terrible. Being a child is tough, as is being a parent. Part of being a parent, for me at least, is to step back and let them do what they want, and yes make their own mistakes as ultimately that is what they will learn from and grow.
    Yes things go wrong in life, yes it’s not nice to see as a parent but if he is carrying round a wheelbarrowful of your own dissapointment it’s hardly fair to tip all that onto your child – after all the dissapointment is his – not theirs.

    He’s setting his offspring up for emotional problems in alter life, especially once he’s passed away.

    What a wally!

  • Could not even finish reading that letter. Blood boiled. My kids have chosen different paths. They are happy with their choices. As a parent I wait in the wings to prompt if required, encourage all the way and applaud effort as well as achievement. I they feel happy and good about themselves – job done.