' When patience isn't practical - Meghan Leahy


July 13th, 2020

Passionate Parenting

When patience isn't practical

Meghan Leahy

By Meghan Leahy The Washington Post

Published May 13, 2019

When patience isn't practical

Q: I just started reading you regularly and love your gentle, understanding approach to parenting. However, I have three kids under age 4 (very energetic 3-year-old twin boys and an almost-2-year-old girl) and sometimes find it hard to implement in the moment. For example, when one kid is causing trouble, sometimes I just need to remove him or her from the room for a minute to get things settled. But then I feel guilty for not being more patient and understanding with the one causing trouble. Do you have any tips for how to triage chaotic situations so that everyone's emotional needs are taken care of?

A: I hate to admit this, but I laughed out loud when I read your note. You find it hard to implement my gentle and understanding approach with three children under 4? You bet you do!

My heavens, you are in the trenches with your children. The combined maturity of all of your children is still less than the chair I am looking at right now. You are managing the hardest childhood ages. All at the same time. You are more referee, short-order cook, ER nurse, body pillow and fence than a gentle and understanding parent. You are keeping your children alive so that you can get to the gentle part. Truly.

Take a big step back and take another look at this. I am going to outline some ideas; take what you need and leave the rest:

1. Become familiar with the developmental milestones of your children. I recommend something easy, such as the Louise Bates Ames series. Don't pick up a tome and make this an academic pursuit (unless that is your jam); just get to know what's normal. It will make you feel much better about your children.

You spend half the time obsessed with them and the other half considering running away from your house, and understanding why these ages are so wonderful and challenging will go a long way in helping you to feel normal.

Also, pick up something easy about twins (who have their own interesting dynamic). When it comes to young children, developmental knowledge is power and can really help you relax.

2. In this vein, join a mothers group, parenting circle or parenting class. I live in a busy city, so all of these are available and exist in a million forms. Do a bit of research for what is near you and don't be afraid to reach out to local churches, Jewish community centers and other organizations.

If you want to be brave and the need is there, consider beginning one of your own. I know you are thinking, "With what time, Meghan?" But there is something wonderfully empowering about bringing together a circle of parents who need one another.

You aren't going to fix one another or your children, but you may find a community that just gets you. It's as basically human as it gets.

3. Get help. I am keenly aware that every family is different. There may be no money, no family, no neighbors, no good friends, no loving arms to help you. But I am still asking you to truly unpack the options and look at them in a serious way.

While asking for and receiving help can be emotionally tough, we are not meant to constantly be alone with our children. How can we lovingly manage all of their intense emotional impulses all of the time? It is impractical, too emotionally and physically draining, and a fast way to sow the seeds of resentment and depression.

A parent with recharged batteries manages everything better, and that includes the children.

4. Take a good look at how your routines are helping or hurting the explosions and meltdowns in your children. Clearly, you are not going to satisfy all of their needs all of the time, but you can set up your day so that many of their needs are met. For instance, let them run outside for as long as possible (fresh air and exercise are crucial) in the first part of the day.

This makes for hungry and tired children, but it also decreases their energy for fighting in the house. Help them get water, food and sleep often. Also, take a look at their technology use. Although tablets and screens are a wonderful distraction, children can easily get wired after they have been on them too long. I am not saying to never let them use technology; just do your best to keep it to a minimum.

5. Understand that you will be doing the best you can for quite a while. If most children reach a reasonable level of maturity at about 7 years old, well, you can do the math yourself. You are going to be deep in the weeds for a while, so don't expect anything to be easy. Joyful? Occasionally fun? Full of big hugs and sweet kisses? Yes. But those moments will be quickly supplemented by tantrums, hitting, kicking and demands.

6. Take care of yourself. Yes, self-care means getting child-care help, but it also shows up in the basic form of eating, sleeping and moving. All of those are tough to come by, but keep returning to a baseline of eating good food, sleeping as much as you can and moving your body.

Self-care also means seeing and calling friends, talking to adults, and keeping some of your own interests alive (even in the smallest of ways). Watch movies that make you laugh, read literature that fills you with hope, and have a good cry when life has become overwhelming. I love this Erik Erikson quote to remind me of my own growth: "Parents who are faced with the development of a number of children must constantly live up to a challenge. They must develop with them."

There is no perfection or lofty standard; just allow space for your children (and you) to play, rest and cry.

Take it one day at a time, find as much fun and ease as you can, and trust that time will pass and life will become less taxing.

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Leahy is the mother of three daughters. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and secondary education, a master's degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach.