Patience, other qualities I lack as a parent

I think my greatest flaw as a parent is lack of patience. I also have problems with lack of sternness when it comes to rule enforcement, but my husband balances that out for me. But patience. Neither of us is particularly good at that, and I think it is an essential trait when the kids are little.

That’s why I’ve decided I’m a much better parent of teens than of toddlers. I used to feel half-crazed sometimes when my kids were very young. Despite their undeniable cuteness, the kids’ unpredictable demands and inability to reason left me weak with frustration on certain days (particularly days after sleep-deprived nights). I also often felt trapped since it was risky, depending on where we were, to leave them unattended for very long. I couldn’t, for example, take a quick jaunt to the store for milk and leave them home alone. Instead, two tiny children had to be dressed properly — this sometimes involved snowsuits in Wisconsin — strapped into car seats, then carried out of those seats into shopping cart seats, where they squirmed and struggled to be free or tried to grab at bright packages of cookies as we roamed down the supermarket aisles. Sometimes crying was involved for no good reason, which made the trip even more fraught.

My second novel, “Vegas Girls,” which came out recently, grew out of a desire to write about this aspect of parenting in an honest and hopefully amusing and relatable way. The book centers on three childhood friends who gather for a week in their hometown of Las Vegas. One of the main characters has two small children and is easily frustrated by the kids’ constant neediness. When I wrote about that character, I was in the thick of early parenthood myself, and it was so freeing to have my character get mad about the things that sometimes upset me.

Now I am the parent of teenagers, and my life is so different that it’s difficult to fully remember those early strains. Was I really that stressed out about my daughter not wanting to sleep? But she was so darling! Why had I seethed with rage on the inside while trying to sweetly put her back in bed?

I recall one evening when my son Malcolm, who was 3, said he wanted to paint. So I gathered the supplies from the closet, got a bowl of water, cleaned some brushes that had grown stiff and crusty, cleared a spot on the table and called him over.

And what did he do? He told me that he’d changed his mind and no longer wanted to paint. This was at the end of a long day and, as you might imagine, his change of heart made me angry. I told him in my best stern voice — which was probably pretty fierce in that moment — that he was going to sit there and he was going to paint and he was going to like it.

About 10 minutes later, his uncle dropped by and asked jovially, “Hey, Malcolm; what are you doing over here?”

Malcolm, eyes downcast, shrugged and said, “Mommy gets mad sometimes.”

Yep, that about summed it up. I did get mad sometimes, over things that weren’t all that important. I laughed then, of course. I had to. But I still recall his sheepish expression, his incomprehension about why exactly I was so angry.

I’d like to say that moment made me into a better mother and from that day forward I was patient and serene as a Buddha. But I’d be lying.

The good news is that the stress of raising babies and toddlers fades quickly, just as the pain of childbirth does, so that the past is glossed over by happy photographs and memories of holding your sleepy, docile child in your arms, brimming with bliss over your good fortune to have had such an amazing kid.

And then one day you miss their littleness so much there’s a pain in the missing. And you wish you could have those moments of irritation to do over. But of course you can’t. And that’s OK, because if you’re a decent parent in general they won’t really remember those angry moments that much, either, if at all.


Heather Skyler is a columnist for Saturday’s Life/Family section in the Orange County Register and editor of OC Family magazine.

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