I would like to be a more patient mother and it turns out I’m not the only one! My readers have told me they want to be more patient too and a 1999 York University study commissioned by Today’s Parent found that patience was the top skill parents felt they needed and impatience was the number-one attitude they didn’t want to pass on to their children.Not only is being patient more pleasant for all involved, I also find that it is more effective. If I am impatient, my son tends to dig in his heels and be stubborn and my daughter gets whiny and clingy.
Good things come to those that wait
Parents are under so much pressure these days from relatives, friends and peers. It used to be that people maybe knew a few others with children their age, but now with the Internet and online forums some moms are interacting with hundreds of other moms whose babies were born in the same month.
- Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?
- Did your baby roll over yet?
- Is your baby crawling?
- Any first steps?
- How many words does she have?
- Is your child toilet trained yet?
- Is he walking up and down stairs on his own?
- Is she using a fork and spoon?
- Can she count to 10? Recite the alphabet?
Whether it is because they are competitive or just worried about their child’s development vis-à-vis others, parents push their children to do things or learn things before they are perhaps ready. I think that learning to be a patient parent begins with having realistic expectations about child development and also not feeling the need to push our children to reach milestones before they are ready. Just let them learn on their own, when they are ready and when they express an interest. Trust them and respect the fact that it is their body and their life. Nora Rock says it very well in her article Learning Patient Parenting (it takes her a while to get to the point though, so be patient!).
I just returned from a vacation in Cuba, which got me thinking about the mañana attitude as it relates to parenting. Generally this term, which means “tomorrow” is reflective of a more laid back culture or lifestyle. In the United States and Canada we are always in a rush and always on a schedule. I know that certainly one of the impatience triggers for me is when I need to be somewhere or want to get something done. If we’re just going outside to the park, I don’t care how long my son takes to put his shoes on, but if we’re late for a scheduled activity I get impatient.
So I think that perhaps one solution to more patient parenting is to slow down, realize not everything needs to be done now and in a hurry, and just enjoy life rather than scheduling and rushing. Part of that is questioning your own motives in the moment. Why do you want your child to hurry up and finish? Is it because you are done and figure he’s had long enough to finish? Is it because you have something else to do and if so can that wait so that you can give your child the time he needs? Is it because you have promised to be somewhere? That brings me to the other part, which is questioning whether you have over committed yourself and your child. If you are constantly rushing from one place to the next (doctor’s appointment, haircut, playgroup, music lessons, swimming lessons, coffee date) have you taken on too much? Should you plan some more downtime into your schedule so that you have more time to be patient? More downtime gives you more time to be patient and also leaves more time for play and cuddles!
Great “in the moment” tips
The tips I gave above are things you can do to create an environment more conducive to patient parenting. However, there are also things you can do in the spur of the moment when you catch yourself about to be impatient. Zenhabits has a great post on how to become a patient parent that lists some of these tips. Some of the key ones include:
- Counting to 10 and taking deep breaths
- Pretend someone is watching and act accordingly
- Take the time to teach your child and consider how what you are about to say will help your child (and don’t say it if it won’t help!)
- Visualize what to do in difficult situations or ask yourself what your mom (or other patience role model in your life) would do
Err on the side of love
The Zenhabits post that I quoted above ends by saying:
Bonus tip: just love. Instead of reacting with anger, teach yourself to react with love. Your child spills something or has a messy room or breaks your family heirloom? Yells at you or gets in trouble at school? React with love. It’s the best solution.
My feeling is it is almost always best to err on the side of mercy and love. There are many parenting ‘mistakes’ that can be ameliorated by lots and lots of love, and the feelings of security it can bring.
I think this is a great mantra to remember when you are about to lose your patience. If you don’t know what to do and are about to throw your hands up in the air, try a hug. Worst case scenario, you create a connection instead of causing a rift. Best case scenario, that is what your child really needed and he starts cooperating after the hug because his needs have been met.
Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at PhD in Parenting.