Why Parenting (Not Marriage) is the Highest State of Tolerance

Posted December 5, 2011 by

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Richard Burton, the British actor and Elizabeth Taylor’s husband and ex-husband multiple times over, once described marriage as “the highest state of tolerance.” This resonated with lots of married couples at the time. While I agree that marriage tests one’s tolerance, stamina, energy level, and everything else about us — I see things a bit differently.

I believe that parenting teens is the highest state of tolerance.

Here is how I see it.

  1. Your teen, it seems, will suddenly stop talking to you for no reason.
    (Your spouse on the other hand will eventually let you know exactly why you are getting the silent treatment.)
  2. You don’t know if your teen will make it through the turbulent adolescent years safely.
    (Your spouse already has.)
  3. When you give birth to a child, you are forever changed in a deep and visceral manner.
    (You did not give birth to your spouse — and while you may feel deep love and affection it is certainly not the same.)
  4. You have to worry if your teen is having sex and whether or not they are using good judgment.
    (Hopefully, you know that your spouse is having sex with you only.)
  5. You did not choose your teen, and the two of you may be mismatched in terms of personality styles.
    (You chose your husband or wife with the hope that your personality styles complement each other.)

Your thoughts? Which tests your tolerance more? Marriage orĀ  Parenting?


Barbara is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their well-intentioned but exhausted parents. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language-A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual with Jennifer Powell-Lunder PsyD and the co-creator of the website http://www.talkingteenage.com.

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  1. articles on parenting Report

    I definitely agree with the title. The family is the basic unity of the society and parenting starts from there.

  2. YiaYia Report

    Parenting teens(as you suggested)might be a parent’s “highest state of tolerance” over marriage however,I am of the opinion that kids of all ages (especially teens) represent the highest state of tolerance and I’ll tell you why. You stated “we don’t choose our teens” and I say “teens don’t choose us either.” Teens become the people we (parents) are and are not born with behavior issues-good or bad. Experts agree all behaviors are learned and are need driven. Kids don’t suddenly turn into intolerant teens. Teens give us clues from birth as to the direction we’re leading them into. We, in turn, ask them to tolerate us in circumstances beyond their control. Circumstances such as re-location or divorce. Divorce forces teens (under the best of circumstances) to tolerate their father’s life when they are living with their dad and their mother’s life when they are living with their mom. Blended families cause teens to tolerate their new family. Re-locations force teens to tolerate new neighborhoods, make new friends, change schools, when the only thing teens want is to feel a sense of belonging! These are just a couple of examples of teen tolerance. I understand your tongue in cheek statement re: ‘parenting teens is the highest state of tolerance’over marriage but,unless teens are positive examples of effective parenting, in my opinion, being a teen might just be the “highest state of tolerance”.

  3. @noczars Report

    I could not agree more. Now think about this: Second marriage, 2 of mine (rebellious as they come) and 3 of hers (model children). I have always felt my loyalties toward my children, but my wife cannot quite grasp this, since once they are gone from the house (down to 1 now), we need to have our lives together. I cannot begin to describe the tension and anxiety this has caused in our marriage over the last ten years. We’ve made it, but not without some damage.
    The day that captured the essence of raising our ‘blended’ family was the day I found my daughter (she had run away 2 weeks prior) and took her to the juvenile facility for home truancy and incorrigibilty, then went to the high school and watched as my step daughter was inducted into the National Honors Society.



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