Why I Parent As If Someone Is Watching
How a trip with friends made me a more patient mom
I’m not a very patient person. Just ask my husband. It’s something I knew I’d struggle with when I had kids, and I have. But honestly, not as much as I thought I might. There’s something about those little round faces that makes all the questions, refusals to put on pull-ups and teething-related tantrums much easier to take. (And for that, Mother Nature, I thank you.) But still. Still, sometimes because I am still a human, I lose it.
When there’s too much screeching, or someone gets pinched, or the baby is shoved to the ground…that’s when I lose it. This summer we’ve been moving and during this time I’ve heard myself yell at the kids more often than I’d like to admit, more often than I ever have. Then I had a wakeup call in the form of a friendly visit.
Some dear friends from Rome were spending the summer in New York so I packed up my four-year-old and flew join them for a few days. Our families were close when we all lived in Rome, plus their daughter and mine were each other’s first official friends. We hadn’t seen them since we left last winter and couldn’t wait to catch up.
My friend Molly is an American married to an Italian and they have two kids, a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy. They’d just arrived at the home they were staying at for a few weeks, jet lag was in full force, the kids were a little whiney, the husband a little distracted by work. All familiar issues but here was the difference: Molly never once seemed phased by it. She’s got a masters degree in art therapy and perhaps learned coping skills along the way or more likely, is the kind of person who is naturally adept at caring for others, understanding what they need and rolling with the punches.
I am not.
Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t any warts growing off my green nose, but I’m more of a Type A, gotta-get-things-done, Keep It Moving kind of gal. As you can imagine, that’s not always great when you live in the middle of Meltdown Town.
Her kids did all the maddening stuff that mine do. Not touching dinner, playing with every last stuffed animal, then immediately losing interest when it’s time to clean up. You know, the stuff that happens. But she was just a force of calm. This was Molly’s reaction to her son’s meltdown in the car: “Well maybe he just needed to get that out.” Mine is usually more like this: “Somebody here is a jerk.” See? Not patient.
Even when she asked her husband to do something specific–change the toddler’s pull-up before we all headed out the door—and the task was never done because he’d gone down the rabbit hole of iPhone emails, calm. She wasn’t seething underneath. She didn’t even seem annoyed. There was no cord of this isn’t fair drifting from her.
At first I was amazed. Then I caught on too.
Granted it’s one million times easier for me to be alone with my four-year-old than it is to have my whole brood in tow, because that group includes a two-year-old AND a one-year-old. But still, I found myself suddenly adept at Taking It Down a Notch. I let Phoebe play in the sprinkler (without worrying about her soon to be wet and gooey clothes), or not play in the sprinkler (without hovering around trying to convince her of the fun to be had). She could eat the bread and olive oil offered as the afternoon snack or not. Either way, everything was going to be okay.
I don’t know if Molly was acting extra patient because we were there, or if she’s always this lovely with her family and that’s just the nature of friendships, you’ll never know that kind of stuff. But one thing is for sure, it made me extra patient too. I wanted to be the best version of myself because, of course, our friends were watching us, or at least witnessing us. But I also wanted to be a better parent because I saw how great she was.
Now Molly doesn’t have three kids, any of the time. And she wasn’t in the middle of a move, along with those three kids. But still, she’s got so much grace going that I couldn’t help but be inspired. Those are the kinds of friends I need more of.
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