This column is 4 years old. I named it "Patient Parenting" because, above all else, if we have patience, we can be better parents.
The dictionary says, "Patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, ... persevering in the face of delay or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset."
I think of my sassy, teenage, skateboarding son, who refused to do anything around the house for months. It took everything I had to not come into full battle with him. The antonyms to patience are aggression and anger.
The journey of patience involves relaxing, opening to what's happening and experiencing a sense of wonder. Instead of reacting suddenly, we can really look at the situation, create some space around it and open ourselves to seeing what's there.
Situations with children where patience may come in handy are often those that involve the choice of either a small reward in a short time span, or a more valuable reward after a longer period of time.
You have a choice when your toddler is melting down in the middle of City Market: give him the candy now to calm him, and the reward for you is not to be embarrassed. Or, let him have a tantrum, be embarrassed, but go for the longer term reward of letting him know that this action is not the way to get something. The few minutes that he screams and yells will provoke you greatly, but here is where the perseverance leads one step further to being a patient parent.
Patience means showing compassion, understanding and respect for a child. If she has an honest need, such as hunger, physical distress or some threatening situation, then you must recognize this need and satisfy it. The trick is, of course, to be able to separate the honest needs from the artificial ones.
Life without patience in your home creates anger and resentment. Children can grow up feeling like they are the source of frustration and develop low self-esteem. Parents feel like failures, and everyone ends up feeling stressed most of the time.
Kids don't mean to push you to your limits. When you're in a rush, they dawdle. When you're trying to focus, they interrupt. When you want quiet, they are loud. When you see a solution, they will argue. Sometimes it's the child who lacks patience, and that can cause you to lose yours.
Make it a point to be patient. Really focus on your family, instead of doing several things at the same time. Re-evaluate your expectations of your kids. If your toddler can't master the potty, maybe he's not ready. If your teen consistently doesn't finish her homework, maybe she needs extra help.
Sometimes parents need a timeout to change their energy, calm down and see the whole picture before dealing with the overturned kitty dish for the 10h time.
If you catch yourself losing your patience, stop, close your eyes, breathe deeply and be proud of yourself for checking your slip-up. Remind yourself to redirect to a more patient practice. Happy parenting, patiently.
Martha McClellan has been an early childhood educator, director and administrator for 32 years. She is currently consulting with and supporting early care providers.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.