I wish I had known how much patience is necessary to be a good parent. I probably would not have changed any of the choices I made in terms of entering parenthood; however, I would have better known how much I would have to change my own disposition in order to parent well.
Parenting requires a great deal of patience. People warn you about sleepless nights and the “terrible twos”, but you think these problems only require discipline – both self-discipline and discipline of the child. They warn you about the changing attitudes that emerge as your child grows into their tween- and teen-age years. Again, you consider the challenges of teaching morals, manners, and respect. What you are not told is that this tiny infant that depends totally upon you for its existence will one day develop a mind and an opinion of their own. This independent streak will not always coincide with your own perspective and they will not balk one moment at expressing their thoughts in opposition to your own. This starts from the very first “No!” and extends all the way into their young adulthood. That challenge – the personal independence of your child – is the most trying, yet most critically important of all that you will face as a parent.
When I was younger, I used to pray for patience. My oldest daughter was the princess of temper tantrums and I got to the point where I had ceased praying for her to be in a good mood. I simply prayed for the patience to survive her tantrums without a personal meltdown. An elderly woman at my church overheard me discussing this strategy with another mother one morning and she immediately interrupted. “Honey,” she said, “never pray for patience. God allows us to practice our patience by putting us in situations where we are required to use it. If you pray for patience, you will only be tested.” Wow! No wonder I was having such a hard time with my oldest! I was asking for it!
Whether her advice is true or not, I was taking the situation at home too seriously. I could not control her tantrums. In fact, after some deep self-searching, I came to the realization that there were very few things in life which I could control. However I could control how I handled myself. With my oldest, the tantrums would sometimes get to the point of the possibility of hurting herself or others. Toys got thrown, walls got hit and if I got in the way of those flying fists or feet, I got hit, too. My pediatrician’s only advice had been that I just needed to wait it out and she would grow out of it. Quite helpful, yes? No.
So, the next time I was in the pediatrician’s office, I grabbed the nurse – a sweet, elderly woman that I find gave better advice than the doctor on most days – and explained my situation. Having experienced my daughter’s tantrums herself in the lab, she knew what I meant. She demonstrated a technique for “calming” my child that was restrictive without restraining and that would allow for her safety – and mine – and a quicker cool-down period. No; it was not the perfect solution. That would have been to find a way to stop the tantrums. But it did allow for less stress and less “wasted” time until she finally did grow out of the need to throw a tantrum.
What I found in practicing this technique was that I was able to stay calm…and not lose my patience!...while she worked out her inner turmoil. As a result, I had fewer headaches and less anxiety in anticipation of the evenings.
I also found out that controlling my patience through the understanding that forced control is never going to work allowed me to improve many areas of my life. I reduced the amount of stress and anxiety on my job, with family, with friends and with myself. I began to understand and accept that my efforts to change the world were not going to manifest simply because it was what I wanted.
Oddly enough, this was one of those lessons where parents realize that parenting their children teaches both child and parent. It seems that is the outcome of most of our parenting situations; don’t you agree? It was a very valuable lesson and I realize that I would probably have learned it much later in life had my daughter not been the princess of tantrums. What is that old adage? “Hindsight is 20/20.” And may I add, a lot less stressful with the experience behind you!