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Parenting's Most Essential Trait
Mom with a View

Parenting's Most Essential Trait

And it's not something we learn from books and classes.


There are a lot of parenting books out there. And a lot of classes. I think I've read them all and taken them all.

And yet I still make plenty of mistakes. The ideas are simple; it's the execution that's not. What makes a good parent? In general it's the same qualities that make a good human being. I'm not sure we actually need all those books or classes. We just need to work on our character -- particularly patience and self-control.

Patience seems a particular challenge is today's fast-paced world of constantly changing online news and text messages. Witness the risks some motorists will take weaving rapidly in and out of traffic to save... possibly a few seconds.

Patience has become a lost virtue.

Someone I know was waiting for a prescription to be delivered. The pharmacy didn't act quickly enough for her liking or expectations so she kept calling them. Finally when the medication arrived, there was a note attached: "Patience is a virtue." Indeed it is -- a lost but necessary one.

What's unique about parenting is that it demands we work on these traits 24/7. We are constantly confronting issues or situations that try our patience. We are frequently in danger of losing control. The only break is when we're sleeping -- if we're lucky!

Having patience with other human beings can be a real challenge. Patience means that when your daughter is singing loudly in the hall (as mine is now), you don't yell "Shut your mouth, I'm trying to work!" but politely compliment her on her voice and ask her to sing a little softer.

Patience means that when your five-year-old asks, "Why?" for the 20th time in 10 minutes, you don't respond "Because I said so" or "Stop asking so many questions," but smile and either give the correct answer or promise to look it up later.

Patience means that when you work hard to make dinner and some of your children turn up their noses at it, you don't throw plates and berate your family. Instead you calmly point them in the direction of the cereal and milk.

Patience means that when your school-age children announce on Sunday night at 11 that they need supplies for the next morning, you don't insult their organizational ability or their teachers, but add the items to your shopping list and reassure them that you will get it as soon as possible.

Patience means that when your kids are wrestling on your bed and kicking off a round of motion sickness, you stop to take pleasure in their playfulness and connection with each other -- before gently nudging them off.

Patience means that when your teenagers won't leave your room as the clock ticks midnight, you prop your eyes open just a little longer and appreciate that your adolescents still want to talk to you.

Patience means that we treat our spouses with at least the same level of consideration.

And patience means that our children are (for the most part) unaware of our exhaustion, our financial stress or any of our other challenges. They only see a loving parent.

It means we're focused on our children's needs and not on our own.

This is not something we learn from books and classes.

It's something we acquire from constant daily practice. And our children give us many opportunities to strengthen this muscle. Patience means we need to lift up out of ourselves and be the person we know we can be, not the one we feel like being. They don't call it a virtue for nothing.

November 15, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) raquel de Almeida, November 30, 2008 4:42 AM

and yet more patience!!

Thank you for your lovely article. I have three lovely and challenging children whose eating habits change constantly. I cook 3 meals every night to suit all levels of fussiness AND on shabbat, in order to avoid any tears I also cook something special for them and for the adults at our table. Last shabbat I did not! The result was empty plates, tears and instead of the usual laughter we had silence. Patience failed me. It made us feel awful and I am not sure it achieved anything. Too early to say.

(12) Anonymous, November 22, 2008 10:55 PM

You can't always be calm

With some you have to yell. In some situations you have to raise your voice (touching a hot stove, grabbing a kitchen knife, running into the street). Kids need to know that you are the boss, and with some, speaking softly does not work.

(11) Florence, November 20, 2008 9:07 AM

to Anonymous #8

I also have a child with special needs. He is no doubt the work of at least 3 children rolled into one. He is also, when I take the time to breathe, the light of my life. Something which has been helping us in light of the digestive issues you mentioned is something called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. There are Yahoo newsgroups which focus on how to implement this protocol in children with Autism. There is hope and there is help.

(10) Ronni, November 19, 2008 8:53 PM

The Hardest Job

People who meet me are forever commenting on my calmness and mellowness (I have six children) but of course they don't live with me so it's unrealistic and inappropriate (imho) to think you'll never yell. The truth is when I do yell it is 99.9% done for effect. For example when my 10 year old daughter (very intelligent and not disabled thank G-d in any way) decided to squish out all the brand new toothpaste all over the sink so she could have the pleasure of squishing it you bet I yelled. Not because I was feeling fury, afterall I only paid $1.50 for it but knowing my daughter I know she needs to hear me yell in order for her to realize the severity of wastefullness. Knowing my child, I know that if we simply had a discussion about it she would have just laughed and done it again the next day. So I yelled at her "Do you think I own a toothpaste company?!" Is that what you do with a brand new tube of toothpaste? You should be very ashamed of yourself!" Finished, end of story. We had a lovely evening afterwards and this won't happen again. So, there is a time and place for raising one's voice but not for losing control and never for public humiliation or nasty talk (public or private). Most parents who regularly yell and carry on without any control are usually suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder anyway so this article would have no impact on them.

(9) Anonymous, November 19, 2008 6:42 PM

Thank you!

Thank you for your wonderful article! I was having a challenging day today with my 2 year old and infant...many times on the verge of loosing my cool. I felt drained from the effort needed to stay calm and realize that being a mother is the best job in the world, even when things are tough. Then I opened my email and saw this article! I felt so much better and gave myself a pat on the back for working so hard on my patience! Thank you for the reminder and encouragement!

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