Only one week into remote schooling and I am writing about patience. It is just under 10 pm and Little Girl C has decided she can’t sleep. As has happened many nights before Christmas as she was anxious about us travelling (or not), she has come to my bed hoping that it will help ease it. I work on my patience and let her stay, typing in the dark.
As she turns and says “one last thing” with a smile I can’t resist, I know patience is possible, even at this time of night. I let her chat and I try and be firm as I give her one last chance to turn away from the computer light and sleep. I try and stay in a place of love, a place of patience. I can’t quite decide if the gift of patience is with me. It is very volatile. I am about to storm her out of the room. I chose to smile. I made it, just one more time. As I finish this article, she is asleep.
The Goal of Patience
Last year, I had as one of my goals to be a peaceful parent. Peaceful for me meant a patient parent. Not getting angry at small things, being ok with repeating 10x if they can come to the table, not minding if they get out of bed 10 times, not losing it at sibling fights, not escalating when I got punched or kicked. I was focused on achieving a zen state while balancing it with the fact that I know we have hard lines on some rules in the house. Like screen time, or bed time and table manners. Do hard rules make it incompatible to be a patient parent?
If you read Dr Laura Markham’s peaceful parenting book, you will still believe rules are possible. I always get stuck on working on the self-regulation chapters so never make it to the coaching chapters (maybe I should this year). But rules can be possible if you manage to develop cooperative children. Which I recognise my children are many times, just not all times. And guess what, the times they chose not to be are probably when I most needed them to. No wonder.
And guess what, if you want to bring it back to business, it applies to leadership too. In times of crisis, that is when you need to stay calm. People, aka employees and colleagues, are likely to be cooperative most of the times. Except then they are not. And then how do you resolve it?
As I often told Hubby B in the last few years, we are the grown-ups. As grown-ups in the parent-child relationship, it is our job to model behaviour. So if we model screaming and being angry, it is not hard to guess what you will get back. Screaming and angry right? Whilst exceptions are possible it is hard to move very much away from this fact.
When I started the book 2 years ago I started slowly changing small behaviours – apologising more (even when I thought screaming was the only way), expressing how frustrated I was in a calm manner, creating space to breathe without them feeling left alone. One behaviour at the time, they slowly become ingrained in me and, whilst I feel (as most mothers do) that I fail a lot, it is likely because I try a lot. I know deep inside that I probably stay in the “good” zone the majority of the times. I probably can’t tell where I am between 60 and 90%. But I can identify a direct correlation to the way the children respond and the way that situations escalate.
Patience through the kicking stage
As an example, Baby S is into kicking when he gets angry or does not get his way. It is widespread to everyone in the house but I tend to get a special focus. No wonder.
- If I escalate and get angry at him and scream for him to stop, he gets extremely nervous, as not only does he realize that he has misbehaved (they always know), but he also gets offended that I screamed.
- If I stay calm and with him, I will probably get hit a few more times, but there is a good chance he quiets down if I stay calm.
- It is not uncommon that I will try and stay by him and I am overwhelmed by emotions, fighting with myself not to get angry but not seeing it calm down. Whilst tears were sometimes the only way that Little Girl C would stop in the past, Baby S stops but gets beyond disturbed. So self-regulation is really key.
- And if I can squeeze in some space to breathe it can do wonders to break the cycle – for both of us.
The “bubble” concept
One of the things that kids don’t always realize is when they repeat difficult behaviour multiple times through the day and suddenly the smallest thing at bedtime can trigger a parent. Often it can throw them out of whack not understanding what was it that they did so wrong. If patience was not replenished through the day, it is likely to have run out by then, no matter how small it is. However, for many kids, the events are not connected. They were starting a brand new “fight” (perhaps I should say argument). And suddenly they get a nuclear bomb back.
I have learned to fill up my bubble throughout the day. Just enough that it can have enough air till the time they go to bed and I still resist a few bed exits. Until out of the blue, I blow out on one of them. My bubble popped, even with little air. And then I know I have to start all over again, incurring the risk of just going to bed feeling miserable about my parenting. I no longer chose to let that go. I chose to model to the children that sometimes we do get frustrated, but we can act kindly to each other even so. Again, I don’t have a 100% hit ratio, but I aim high.
And by the way, if you think this only applies to children, try applying it to grown-up relationships. Works the same. Lack of patience easily turns into resentment. Because grown-ups are not necessarily so cuddly and sweet.
The “it’s not about you” concept
The other thing it is hard to digest through the more difficult early years (and probably the latter teenage years), is that this is not a plot children against parents. Children are rarely out to get you and try and make you miserable. In fact, it is unlikely they are trying to press your buttons all the time. What they may be in, is a quest for attention and appreciation. And if like me, you are someone who gives lots of attention to your children, you may also lose patience at this. Start seeing them as self-centred and uncaring for others. That it is all about them and nothing about you.
If that is the case, that is a good time to turn the mirror on you. What I do know is that most of the times, it is not about me, it is really just about the toy they wanted to snatch from one another, or the extra bedtime story they wanted to read, or the extra time they wanted to play before the bath. There was nothing in it to annoy me, it is just that theirs and my time concept did not quite match. Learning to accept that we have different concepts of time and introducing warnings that fun time is about to finish has created much better outcomes for us, even if, like anything in life, it is not the Holy Grail.
I used to think patience was a gift. Some people had it, some people don’t. But as I have learnt doing drawings with Little Girl C during the lockdown, even I can draw. So whilst I certainly was not born with the talent to draw, everything can be improved with effort and practice. And that is exactly what patience requires. It requires a huge amount of effort and practice. It requires a choice every single time, in every single interaction, every single day. No bubble can outlast this right?
Not quite. The best tool to be patient I find is self-care. It is only by having a calm and more peaceful mind that we can operate from the right place with our children. In the days where I exercise, or I do my morning yoga in peace, where I feel like I have done something for me, or I have done my work to the extent I hoped for, I feel better and stronger. Or just the fact that I had more sleep, is enough to sustain a much higher level of patience. This is one where it is actually about you, not about the children. It is easy to have patience with perfectly behaved children. The only glitch is, they don’t exist, which is why they are children.
The virtuous circle of patience
I like to believe patience generates patience. In a virtuous circle, we all become more patient. We all react better at being told things we don’t want or like. We all chose to laugh when we could choose to get upset. We all have an easier time self-regulating and dealing with strong emotions. Patience is a virtue, a talent, and an outcome of hard work. And it can be contagious if one even wants to use such word in such day and age. It is one I work hard on, in the hope that it spreads around the house. Maybe it will?