Parenting and Patience: You're Not Perfect
When your toddler is driving you crazy — and you lose your cool — just remember: you’re only human. Do your best
Here’s a scene that plays out too often at my house (or in the car or at the supermarket or wherever really): Coraline is being demanding/squirmy/contrary/three and my exhaustion/frustration/anxiety boils over and I yell. And all the while I’m yelling at my child like a lunatic I’m thinking how wrong I am. So I finish my tirade and five minutes later am apologizing. “I’m sorry I yelled, that wasn’t fair.” And she’ll pat me on the forehead and say “It’s okay Mama.” “No, it’s not,” I’ll tell her. And I mean it. So when I find myself being “mean Mommy” again, I feel like even more of a jerk.
This weekend we went to Boston to visit friends, and the first night — after I’d made it through an entire day without once raising my voice or assuming a biting tone, only to lose my cool at bedtime — my girlfriend and I sat in the kitchen lamenting the apparent mutual exclusivity of parenting and patience. Mid-conversation I had to sneak upstairs (“to get my water bottle”) so that I could apologize to Coraline for my shameful finger wagging bedtime ultimatum(s). When I came back down, I fessed up to my friend about my rage-regret cycle, which spawned a conversation about all the not-joyful emotions that populate days with small children, that no one wants to talk about. The shining star of these closeted emotions is guilt. The guilt! To which everyone just says “Be kind to yourself, it's hard.” But what woman, mother or not, has a natural proclivity to be kind to herself about anything?
Because that’s the way the universe works for me these days, that night when I got into bed with my book — “Carry On, Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton (the hilarious mom behind Momastery) — I opened right to a piece about this very thing (“A Little Advice”). Melton says that when she makes a parenting mistake (big or little) she tries to remember two things: who she is and her most important job as a parent. Who she is is human, and her most important job is to teach her children how to be human. “We make mistakes all day, and that’s good. We want our children to see that. We want them to learn how to handle mistakes because that’s an important thing to learn.” While this certainly doesn’t exonerate my bad behavior, it does offer a pointed reminder that there’s no such thing as a perfect person, and that a humble person — who is willing to admit their mistakes and apologize — is the next best thing. “There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being human, and that is this: Forgive yourself... It’s loving yourself enough to offer yourself a million more tries. It’s what we want our kids to do for their whole lives, right?” Right.
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