Life is filled with difficult, frustrating people. Few of us are able to be successful without patience and empathy. In fact, most people who are great at what they do are great precisely because they are able to connect with and understand even the most difficult and frustrating characters among us.
Angela Merkel’s father was a pastor in East Germany. He was beloved by his flock. He forged a deep bond with them over many years. “My father was good at approaching people and getting them to talk,” his daughter would reflect with admiration many years later.
But at home? At home things were a little different. There, he was stern and impatient. “What really made me angry as a child was his way of showing so much understanding for everyone else,” she said less fondly, “but if we children did something wrong, his reaction was completely different.”
Clearly he was capable of being understanding and kind—he did it all day, everyday as part of his job. But maybe that was the problem: he’d used up all his patience at work and had none left for his family when he got home. Or maybe he held himself to a different standard professionally than personally, because it wasn’t in public. Or maybe he made the mistake that many of us do, forgetting that our children are little people, with the same problems as everyone else, just a different size.
Because we are not paid for the job of raising our kids, and because that job is fundamentally different—we don’t train them like employees, or serve them like customers, or counsel them like parishioners—we sometimes lose sight of the fact that they are human. That they exist outside our hopes and dreams and expectations for them. We don’t accept with the same level of grace and understanding that they also make mistakes, that they might be having a hard time, that they just want some appreciation. And because of that, we sometimes fail to treat them with the appropriate level of dignity, respect and compassion.
You don’t yell at a colleague just because they left a door open. You don’t restrict an employee to their office without lunch because they didn’t get an assignment done on time. You don’t punish one of your players for wanting more of your attention and counsel. And yet, children all over the world, for all of time, can speak to relationships where that was the exact kind of treatment they received from parents who were at the end of their respective ropes and had run out of patience before they’d even walked through the door.
Be kind to your family. Make sure they get the same patience and understanding as everyone else. Actually, scratch that. Make sure they get more. Because long after you’ve left this job, or stopped coaching that team, or stepped away from this business—they will still be your kids.