Patience is one of those unexpected tests for parents. We don’t realise it until we catch ourselves being that overly naggy or angry grown up of the family. But it’s so important we get to grips with it, because if we don’t we’re likely to create the kind of relationship we don’t want with our children. Stress at work doesn’t help, but recognising this and putting in a very simple process can really help us change in the short term to create a better long term for us and our families.
Being patient really matters
My son once asked me why I like cleaning and tidying so much. My jaw dropped, where had he got this impression from?
‘I don’t like cleaning’ I explained.
‘But you’re always doing it’ he said.
‘I like a clean house’ I corrected him.
That little exchange taught me a valuable lesson. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more your children associate it as part of who you are, even if that isn’t the real you.
Think of it this way, if stress or over-work makes you an impatient parent and you only ever feel like your old patient self yourself when you’re on holiday, then you are not in fact patient. You kids won’t remember the you from that two-week holiday, they will remember the impatient, stressed out you from the other 50 weeks of the year.
The pace of work makes us less patient
Decades spent working 8 - 6, if not longer, has conditioned us to focus on the short-term, to be assertive, to expect action. Naturally, we take that default mindset home. We expect things to be done when we decide, but our children are not functioning at the same level that we are. They don’t have the decades of experience. If we’re setting our expectations at the age of an adult, then it’s our fault we’re impatient, not theirs.
It’s our job to recognise this, it’s not our job to get the things done day to day, like getting to school on time. It’s our job to help our amazing little people become brilliant big people. If that means learning the hard way what it’s like being late, then let them be late for school. That way they learn, if you rush them out the door, getting things done for them, all they learn is you’re a stressed out parent.
All very logical but how do you do it?
The trick is to NOT be in the moment, because that moment, the one where your patience gets tested, quickly turns into a battle. When you see it in the right context, the one that says your job is to help them learn and grow, the moment changes. It moves from the scene of a potential battle, to a place where you can connect with them and help them learn and grow, because that’s your job.
To not get sucked into the moment and all its patience-testing turmoil, it’s helpful to remind yourself what your job as a parent is. I’ve found the best time to do that is when you have a moment to yourself. The only time that happens (for me) is in the shower. A trick I worked out years ago when I was working very hard on improving my patience.
Every morning now I check in with myself. How am I feeling? What’s my energy like? What’s going to be tough today and how will I deal with it? What kind of dad do I want to be? What does that look like?
Four years ago, I was an angry dad, something I never wanted to be, so I set out to change it. Now I’ve put together everything I’ve learnt over the last three years of research and self-experimentation into a course. It’s here if you’re interested.