Ask Amma

Losing Patience

In How on 3 July 2012 at 8:10 pm

I feel I am often losing my patience these days. I end up raising my voice, or at least having that tone of anger, admonishing, or worse, I fall into the popular trap of bribing her with something to take her away from something else.

Right after I have talked to my daughter in a harsh tone, I often give her a hug, say sorry, and explain, but that is still not where I want to be.

– Mom of a 3 year old in Texas

To get where we want to be as parents, there are a number of good sources of help. You will get there. I will get there. Along the way there will be times we wish we could go back and do differently, or more likely DO NOTHING (in capital letters). Those moments hold the potential to be our best teachers.

Believe in your standards and believe in yourself. For example, you say that you do not want to bribe. Hold on to that standard. Recently I said something like “there will be a surprise when you finish that,” and my daughter said, “do you really want to make me depend on prizes?” In fact, non-inherent rewards struck her as bizarre from the first time I even brought one up, when she was 2. I told her, at a doctor’s visit, that sometimes children get a treat afterwards. I knew I was straying onto dubious ground. Her one-word response set me straight. Puzzled, she paused her crying, looked up at me, and asked, “why?” I drew a blank. What could I say? I knew then that I never wanted her to lose that sense of irrelevance of made-up rewards.

What I learned from this was more basic than the importance of standing against bribe. I learned to hear my daughters questions honestly rather than brushing them aside, as would have been necessary for me to be able to wield the upper hand. When I was honest, my unequal access to goodies (to use as rewards), greater knowledge (to instill fear) was rendered irrelevant – the playing field got levelled.

Image: John McWade

Image source: John McWade

Have you seen the steady stream of articles by parents who admit to all and sundry parental no-nos such as bribing, lying, ignoring, faking, and more, in an almost so-what if not downright boastful manner? Hundreds of parents write back and say “me too!” A kind of “can you top that?” of parenting blunders ensues (“I picked up the wrong baby from day care!” “Oh yeah? well I …”). Refreshing as it may be to see people open about their mistakes, discarding standards so that there is no possibility of falling short does not encourage reflection, resilience, or any hope of improvement. Nor does it even make us less perfectionist. It just redefines perfect so that we always already are. Any higher standard is impossible and unrealistic.

In contrast, even a self-professed perfectionist like the “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua writes about her mistakes from a place of hearing her children’s voices, and thereby growing as a parent.  The question of whether I agree, as a reader and as a parent, with her philosophy or her practice in a given situation is subsumed by my solidarity with her act as an author, and as a parent, of listening (finally!) to her children and learning from them when they most disagreed with her.  The lessons learned are articulated in the voices of the author’s children.

Radio journalist Jim Cohen also makes space for his daughter’s voices to be heard, just a few weeks after they have engaged in an activity that shocked upset their mother, and perhaps also him (his reaction is not described). In his interview with them, we learn that the children knew something had gone awry, but they did not expect their parents to “scream like that.” In fact, when presenting the results to their mother, they had asked hopefully, “Isn’t it nice?” Poignantly, the daughter reflects: “That was really, really, really, terrible but everyone does that kind of stuff sometimes. It happens like once, or twice, or three times in every life. Or twice, or…. I mean, once.” Hearing this sage counsel, I thought that it applied more to the “screaming” that came from her mother than her own (harmless, imho) action. (Curious? Hear the story.)

To sum up, it is a sense of reciprocity, of striving to keep a level playing field for the family, and seeking to be held accountable to our values and to our children, that will help us learn from our mistakes and bounce back from any harm done. Let me end with these affirmative words of Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

  1. I too struggle to get out of all the bribing culture around here .. My son used to get a gummy for everday he uses the potty seat for potty in school..and now he feels cheated since he stopped receiving gummies after he was potty trained. .He complaints about it ..

    I do think its good to reward good behavior … that ways yuo don;t have to do anythign harsh for bad behavoiur ..but it comes and bites back eventually .. since after all the teachers can not keep giving him gummy for potty forever … and at the same time ..its not fair that now that he is has mastered the good behavaiour ..we stop recognizing those achievements ..
    Anyways i am myself guilty of it..since he does nto drink milk at all .. i reward him with a gummy everyday when he finishes his 1 small cup of milk ( thats all he will drink) every day .. hoping to get out of it someday


    • Hi Neetu, Thanks for writing and sharing here. I can understand your son’s feelings! Punishment and rewards are manipulative – who wants to be manipulated? We may think we are manipulating for a good cause but at what cost? And what if it is counter productive? Since you brought up the issue with milk, I thought of asking you, have you considered that he may not need to drink that milk? Children who are in tune with their bodies can trust their senses to indicate what they need. If they are asked instead to listen to you, or to the gummy bear (and the industrially-synthsized flavours, colours and textures that make them appealing) then they may lose the sense of being in tune with their bodies.


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