Seek First to Understand; Then Be Understood.

Seek first to understand; then be understood.

Wise words that can be applied to a ton of situations (specifically, communication and business) but, most relevant to me at the moment: parenting.

Parenting a toddler isn’t easy, and they sure don’t call it the “Terrible Twos” for nothing. You might think you know your child inside and out (especially after surviving infancy and the early toddler years) but sometimes it’s really hard to know what your child wants/needs in that exact moment … and it can get exasperating trying to deduce what’s wrong.

Maya is a Chatty Cathy … but if she’s throwing a tantrum, it’s often impossible for us to figure out what she is upset about  (if it seems to come from out of the blue). So short of understanding her, things like intonation, facial gestures, body language, eye contact become critical to deciphering what the problem is.

Once we understand what she is trying to tell us, we can [usually] react accordingly. Of course, this requires patience … something I still admittedly suck at. I mean, being a mom has made me more patient … but I’d still never say I am a patient person.

The other night, for example, she was super-clingy with me after school — which I usually love, but we had gotten home late and needed to get dinner started before we went to meet with our realtor. I held her while she drank her milk and we talked about her day.

[For anyone dying to know, our conversations go something like this: “Maya, what did you do today?” “We play wit leetle freeends.” Then she told me she had crackers for snack and she played inside in the gym — all true, confirmed by the daily report card school gives us].

Anyway, after we had some snuggle time I put her down to get dinner going. And she threw an absolute fit … we’re talking fake tears, on her belly kicking and screaming … what she wanted was clearly me/my attention, not just the act of being held. And I felt awful that I couldn’t give it to her in that moment.

Worse, I was not patient in my response to her, even after I realized what she was really upset about. I was short with her and she could see the frustration written all over  my face. “Mommy mad,” she said with her lower lip quivering.

She might as well have just driven a stake through my heart …

And so of course I felt awful and terribly guilty. I hadn’t sought first to understand … I just wanted to be understood — that in that moment, Mommy was busy.

But to my two-year-old … that wasn’t what she needed to hear, or — I should say — not how she wanted to hear it. And especially since I hadn’t been with her all day, my reaction was not OK. I could have done a much better job; one that wouldn’t leave me feeling guilt-ridden the whole night.

I calmed myself down, picked her up, and brought her to the kitchen with me. I asked if she wanted to help mommy by sitting nicely in her chair while I sliced peppers for dinner and she counted out clementine slices and sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She was happy and agreeable, and all was right in her little world world.

But I still felt terrible afterwards. It was one of those parenting moments I am not proud of, but in the end, it served as a reminder that patience is an absolutely essential component of parenting. Sure, we all have our moments … and I am not proud of those moments when my patience is waning (especially when I’m not feeling well or had a tough day at work) … but I still need to remember how perceptive and sensitive our little girl is, especially at this age.

That night, I squeezed her extra hard at bed-time and didn’t even put her in her crib til she was sound asleep, breathing rhythmically into my shoulder. It didn’t make up for my behavior a couple hours prior, but at least I know she felt my love as she drifted off to sleep.

How about you? Do you find your patience threshold has changed since becoming a parent?


4 thoughts on “Seek First to Understand; Then Be Understood.

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. I have never been a patient person but being a parent has created a patience in me I never knew I could have (it even spills over at work – I’m much kinder and more patient overall since having Nate). And now that he talks so much (ALL. THE. TIME.) I do make a concerted effort to make sure I understand why he’s upset before I take any action. Sometimes I can’t do anything – if we need to get in the car and leave, we need to go (though I try to leave more time now for things like that) but if it’s something at home or out, I give him a big hug and get down on his level and ask him to tell me why he’s sad or mad. He can very clearly articulate things like, “You make me sad. You said no food” (if he wants a snack right before dinner). I try to reason my response on his level, but that’s probably the least effective part since his logic is somewhat limited. 🙂 (Well, he has his own.) But my main goal is to make sure he feels like he’s allowed to be upset and express why and I will always listen.

    1. It is amazing how you really do need to readjust/reframe how you think of situations when dealing with toddlers!! Right … sometimes we need to go! LOL … it’s better than you think I bet! 😉 Love that … I also try to instill that in her, too … that we will listen. But dang it’s hard sometimes!

  2. PS – this is not to say I don’t snap sometimes and yell. LOL I do. But, like you, I feel horrendous afterwards and just have to think about that the next time I’m inclined to yell, how bad I’ll feel after I do. It works sometimes. 🙂

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