Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Parent I Want to Be

An incident happened recently that offered instant clarity about the kind of parent I want to be. I was walking home from the train in the snow. I was rushing along, deep in thought, when I saw a child and a woman who appeared to be his young grandmother emerging from the dentist. They were at their car, parked on the side of the street surrounded by snow, when I reached them.

The grandmother was on the driver's side opening the door. The boy struggled to hold several items including a jigsaw puzzle box. The boy lost his footing as he stepped off the curb. All in an instant the jigsaw puzzle flew everywhere! He wailed as he looked at the tiny pieces strewn about, simultaneously upset about his puzzle and filled with worry that he would be reprimanded for his clumsiness.

The grandmother hustled over, alarmed by his cries. When she reached him and saw what had happened she did not reprimand him. She instead let out a big laugh. She then said, "That's okay. Let's just pick them up." in a calm, reassuring tone as she stooped down to help. They were both picking up puzzle pieces and laughing about the sight as I walked off towards home.

As I walked home I reflected on the incident. What would I have done? I would want to be as calm, but I honestly doubted I could have been. I wondered if they were in a rush. If they were in a rush, would she have been so calm? My mind was spinning. It was just a simple interaction, and yet so out of place. I had seen so many interactions with children over the years. Grandparents were often more patient, but this stuck out because I had never seen patience and understanding to this degree.

I often see children being bombarded with disappointment, impatience, disgust, and anger. Caregivers frequently send mixed messages. They expect children to be patient, yet model their own impatience. They praise children for being patient when they are really whining and complaining about having to wait in a line or for an order to be ready.

Ironically, children are often held to higher standards when it comes to things like this. Would you yell at your spouse or best friend for dropping a puzzle in the snow?

I wanted to be like this grandmother, the storehouse of patience and reassurance delivered in the precise amounts at the precise right time. I wanted to be able to put things into perspective exactly when I needed the clarity.

I tried to take a little bit of that day with me as I walked home. I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to be as perfectly patient, at least before I'm a grandmother, but I also knew that the knowledge was the first step. Modeling is a powerful teacher and I received the lesson of a lifetime that day.

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