image by Running in Suffolk, courtesy Flickr.com

There’s a lot of talk in the world of paid employment about “skill sets.” Specific skill sets are desirable and even required for certain jobs. Without them, you may not get hired, and if you don’t keep up on them, you may get fired.

But what of a mother’s “required” skill sets? For better or for worse, mothers don’t get hired or fired by their children based on their acquisition or lack of specific skill sets. (At least not when those children are young and dependent!) But are there specific skill sets all mothers should develop for the sake of their own confidence “on the job” as well as more peace, joy, order, and progress in the home? Of course! That’s what our “powers” are all about, and this month’s power (Patience) is something all mothers need, no matter what the ages of her children.

Patience for children of all ages is what got me thinking about skill “sets,” because having patience for a young child is completely different than having patience for a teenager. While the skill is patience, there are many “sub-skills” under that banner that can help mothers get through the various stages of childhood.

What kind of patience is required for younger children? Patience for constant noise and commotion (translation: whining, crying, and fighting), messes and accidents, interrupted sleep, physical neediness, and the never ending presence of a little person.

Personally, I don’t know if I’ve just been worn down over the years or if I’ve actually developed a measure of patience, but I’m amazed at how unruffled I am by the daily messes and accidents of my younger children. Likewise, even though the constant needs and interruptions of my pre-schooler still try me at times, I can take it with much less frustration now. And it’s just scary how easily I can tune out the whining and crying.

But now that I’ve got a teenager in the house, the rules of the game have changed.  Now I’m working on developing patience for last minute notices of changed plans or urgently needed school supplies (no more email reminders or cute notes from the teacher), for moody and/or stubborn attitude accompanied by rolling eyes and the phrase “whatever,” for neglected responsibilities in favor of something more fun, for a desire to stay up too late, sometimes wanting to interact with ME, the woman who can’t keep her eyes open past 9pm.

Unlike patience for younger children, the challenge of having patience with teenagers is that you can no longer “let it slide.” You can’t just clean up their messes for them, excuse their bad behavior because they are tired or hungry, or write off their lack of respect or responsibility because “they’re just children.” We are training teenagers to become full blown adults, capable of raising their own children and running their own households, so we’ve got to expect more of them before throwing them out into the big, wide world.

For me, the biggest difference between the patience needed for young children versus teenagers is that it is accompanied by an urgency to train them well.

But what does that mean? We can’t just “let ‘em have it”–patience is still in play. And while exerting our wills over our younger children is possible, force is never a good idea, and it rarely works with teenagers. Even more than our little ones, teenagers need to learn in their own way, often through making lots of mistakes. Patience helps us not to nag and belittle them during the learning process, or undermine the process itself by jumping in to make everything better so that they (or is it we?) won’t look bad.

Just like Hiccup, the main character in the movie “How To Train a Dragon,” if we want our dragons (teenagers) to willingly submit to our training, the first step truly is patience. They need to know we are trying to help them fly, rather than pin them down, and this often comes by hanging back instead of jumping in with force, telling them what to do and how to do it.

Yes, patience is a virtue, but one that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Patience is something we must consciously choose, and constantly practice. Our relationship with our children as well as the ability to train them well depends on it!

QUESTION: What experiences have you had with your teenagers that required specialized patience skills? What made the difference between disaster and success? Any older mothers out there with specific tips to share, please comment away!

CHALLENGE: Practice patience for your teenager by scaling back the nagging or belittling comments and refraining from rescuing them when they make a mistake. 

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