Where is My Patience Serum?

Before I became a parent I thought I fully knew what it meant to unconditionally love another individual. Probably because I was a newlywed who was so twitterpated (see Bambi) that loving my new bride was a cinch. She was pretty, she liked me, and she never (well, rarely) threw tantrums or did anything that drove me crazy. As Elder Jeffery R. Holland has said—slightly modified:

It is easy to be [loving] when things are calm and life is good and everything is going smoothly. The test is when there is real trial or temptation, when there is pressure and fatigue, anger and fear…Can we be [loving] then?

As my wife and I began to have children, I remember thinking that I was a pretty patient guy.

HA!

I have found that my patience was the equivalence of Captain America before he was injected with the serum that made him ripped. I was an absolute wimp when it came to patience!

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Raising children can be one of the most deeply rewarding yet exhaustingly difficult experiences one can have in this life. Sometimes, however, we try to make parenting easier by using quick-fix strategies that can actually be bad for our child’s development. I will offer a personal experience with a couple of principles, to illustrate what I mean:

Moms Complain Too Much

Several years ago while working as a tennis instructor as I prepared for graduate school, my employer at the time pulled me aside and said:

“I don’t know what all these moms are complaining about. I raised two boys on my own and it was a piece of cake!”

He then went on to tell me his “wise” methods for making child rearing easy, which mostly involved providing for his sons’ physical needs (i.e., food and clothing). That conversation stuck with me over the next several years as I studied and worked with parents who all seemed to be having a much more difficult time than this man had had with his boys. I wondered: Did he have a special pill or a magic wand to make parenting easier? Did he have the stuff Captain America was injected with that made him emotionally and spiritually buff? If so, he could make a fortune if he shared his secrets with the world!

Real Parenting is Not for Wimps!

Through the years, my former employer’s philosophy on the ease of child rearing has become increasingly foreign to me. My wife and I have often encountered difficulty in raising our four children! If children were only physical beings needing simply a roof over their heads, clothing on their backs, and food in their bellies then I would agree with my old boss that child rearing is not that hard—and really isn’t all that different than having a pet.

However, providing for our children’s emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs requires not only a continual herculean effort but is critical to seeing our children as actual people. Author of Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn put it this way:

Forget ‘rocket science’ or ‘brain surgery’: When we want to make the point that something isn’t really all that difficult, we ought to say, ‘Hey, it’s not parenting!’

Even when we are trying to meet all of our child’s needs we may give in to the temptation to seek for quick, easy answers when difficulty arises. The advanced industrial and technological age in which we live has only fueled this craving for quick solutions. Additionally we may dismiss a really solid research or doctrinally based parenting principle because it requires effort and patience to see its effectiveness in our life and our child’s life.

If I could summarize a lot of the questions I hear from parents regarding their children I believe it would be something like:

“How can I get my child to do or not do ____________ (fill in the blank)?”

The implied assumption in such a question is that getting our children to start and stop certain behaviors is our end goal as parents—therefore, we just need to find the right technique to merely get our children to do whatever it is we want. Sounds easy enough to me!

Except for the fact that we parents know that our children are much more than a series of desirable and undesirable behaviors. Perhaps we parents should be asking something more like:

“What does my child need, and how can I meet those needs?”

Can’t I Get Buff from Benching the Bar?

We want them to become something, not just jump through our hoops. Elder Dallin H. Oaks will shed some light on this:

We may have to struggle to achieve our goals, but our struggles may yield as much growth as our learning. The strengths we develop in overcoming challenges will be with us in the eternities to come. We should not envy those whose financial or intellectual resources make it easy.

Then he added this profound statement:

The stuff of growth was never made of ease.

If our children are here on earth to become like the Master, then that means we parents are, too. Let us always remember that growth in any area of life is line upon line and it cannot happen without some opposition. There is no serum or pill that can cause anyone in your family—including you—to become something overnight. Keep the long view and avoid any parenting advice that may cause you to neglect any critical area in your child’s development or to treat your children as objects rather than agents (this typically comes in two flavors: bribes & punishments).

With faith and sound doctrinally and research-based principles—not quick-fix strategies—you and your children will get there, here a little and there a little.