Parenting Without Patience: A Lesson in Empathy

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I am the last woman on Earth that has the patience to parent. In truth, I’m awful with big emotions and talking back. I often find myself walking away from my kids when the tantrums seem to have no end in sight. I turn them over to their father when I cannot process their feelings.

Patience has always been a struggle for me. My husband jokes that I am a bit cold to the kids when they get emotional. Sometimes, I don’t even notice that I’m shutting down to them. He’s right, of course. It’s as if I drift off to another universe when the crying and screaming begins.  He then takes over with empathy while I figure out how to come back to Earth.

The irony is that I have a degree in counseling. Three years I spent studying the difference between sympathy and empathy. I know books explain developmental changes in children; I even took child development in my undergrad. I have plenty of knowledge not to be this way, but I struggle daily to be patient and listen to my kids.

The Reminder

Over the holiday break, while packing up all our stuff after three days at my parent’s house, I witnessed a moment I hadn’t experienced in years. While running around the house collecting our things,  I also chose to take away the disputed iPad, much to my daughter’s dismay. As she proceeded to meltdown, I kept moving on with my task, and Abuela took over. My mother wrapped her up in a blanket and calmed her with soothing words and encouraged Gabi to rest. The effect of this treatment on my daughter was instantaneous. She became quiet and still as if she was about to drift off for a nap. I remember my mother doing this with me when I was a very young child, and I couldn’t believe I forgot that this is what worked for me.

That moment made me realize that I’m so busy with being busy, I’ve convinced myself that I don’t have time to validate my children’s feelings. I’m always rushing from one thing to the next, and I tell myself, I’m just trying to survive the day. This turned into a cycle of me running forward, leaving everyone else behind. 

Challenging Myself with Patience

I often joke that children are born as “personality-concentrate” that dilutes over time as they grow and learn to play by society’s rules. Now I see this is not only true; our base needs are still always there throughout our lives. Our need for a calming touch when we are upset. The need to feel heard, validated, and simply loved despite our mistakes—the need for others to have patience with us. Adulthood does not automatically turn these needs off. Nor does living as an adult around your children mean that they will understand how to cope the way you do.

There is so much more to learn from this. It will take a lot of personal growth, reading, and therapy for me to push past my struggle with empathy. And as we move through a political climate in desperate need of empathy and care for others around us, passing this lesson on to our children starts with us.

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