Patience. That elusive quality every parent desires, but always feels is just out of reach. We assume that every other parent is more patient with their kids than we are. I hear it all the time: “Oh, I could never homeschool. I’m too impatient.” Please allow me set the record straight in this particular area. Homeschoolers are no more patient than any other parent. I’m doing this by the grace of God because I believe it’s what’s best for my kids, not because I’m a Super Parent. Now peewee soccer coaches, on the other hand, are the Super Parents who deserve sainthood!
I recently read a profound statement about patience. “Love always begins with patience and patience is a willingness to suffer.” We all love our kids – that’s a no-brainer. So why is being patient so stinkin’ hard? Because patience causes us parents to sacrifice our own pride, schedule, and goals in the best interest of our child. Simply put, we don’t like to suffer. Who does?
We grow impatient with our kids when they display behaviors we think they should have outgrown a long time ago because so-and-so’s kid doesn’t act like that. (Even though so-and-so’s kid may have a whole different set of issues his parents are obsessing over.) When our kids don’t act the way we want and it inconveniences us because it forces us to slow down, embarrasses us, or interferes with our plans, we have a choice: hurry them and shame them, or suffer the shame and inconvenience ourselves as we demonstrate patience. In our modern world of instant gratification, comparisons, and unreasonable expectations of children to all perform like little robots, it’s no wonder parents often find themselves struggling with patience.
I wonder how much of our impatience as parents is due to the comparison game we all play. We look around at other kids and judge our own based on how they measure up. When they fall short of our expectations (based on these comparisons, instead of their own timetable for growth), our patience wears thin. But what if we just stopped? What if we gave our kids – and ourselves – the freedom to grow at the pace God intended? Would we suffer? Maybe. Perhaps our pride would take a hit because Junior still hasn’t gotten his multiplication facts memorized after three. Long. Painful. Years of trying every possible method to help him. When we refuse to shame our kids or rush them – when we demonstrate a willingness to suffer ourselves rather than humiliate them – it costs us. Sometimes dearly. When I pray for patience, what I’m really asking is for God to give me a willingness to suffer on behalf of my kids, to be inconvenienced rather than insist on getting my way. Kinda changes the way you think about prayer, doesn’t it?
However, if I want the Fruit of the Spirit – patience, in particular – to be evident in my life, then I have to look to my Heavenly Father as my role model. Does he grow impatient with me when I still struggle with the same issues that plagued me as a child? Does he roll his eyes when I get distracted during the sermon or let my mind wander during devotions? Does he compare me to Susie Sunday School and say, “When are you going to get your act together and look more like her?” Of course not! The truth is, God gently allows my life and growth to unfold, as a seed planted in spring slowly grows to maturity. At times, he disciplines me by weeding out destructive habits and pruning dead branches where growth no longer takes place, but he never forces growth.
Demonstrating patience by taking on the shame of a child who doesn’t measure up to our own or someone else’s expectations puts us in good company – the company of Christ who took on the shame of my sin so that I could be set free from its consequences. He demonstrates his own love – his patience – for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Before we got our act together, he decided we were worth suffering and dying for. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold us accountable for our actions and attitudes, just like we, as parents, should hold our kids accountable for their actions and encourage their growth toward maturity. But godly patience means that our motives in doing so are solely in their best interest, not ours. Everything our Heavenly Father does (or doesn’t do) on our behalf is for our good and the good of others. God desires my life to bring glory to himself, not because he needs the ego boost or reassurance that he’s a good God, but because he wants my participation in drawing others to him so they can also live in glory with him for all eternity.
So how can we be more patient? I wish I had an easy answer, but here are a few areas I’m working on:
- Acknowledge the “otherness” of your child. He or she is not an extension of you. God has given your child a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Encourage and celebrate your child’s strengths, and recognize that our weaknesses are often the very things God uses to draw us to himself. When God reminded me of this regarding a particular struggle of one of my children, it was incredibly freeing. I realized that God did not expect me to “fix” every flaw in my kids, but rather lead them to him so that they can experience the power of God at work in their lives as he helps them to overcome what they cannot change on their own.
- Recognize that time and maturity will take care of a lot of issues, and there’s no set timetable for a child’s development. Having a toddler or preschooler who struggles with impulse control does not automatically mean he’ll end up a juvenile delinquent. You can respond appropriately to your child’s misbehavior 100% of the time, and it still does not mean those consequences will become a deterrent until his brain has developed the ability to delay gratification. So don’t assign a dismal future to a child who struggles with something you think he should have mastered, or beat yourself up as a parent because you’re not yet seeing results. It’s hard to be patient when a child makes the same mistake over and over, or seems like he’ll never learn a particular skill, but every child develops at a different pace. Hang in there! A child will read when he’s ready to read, regardless of how many books you read to him or educational videos he watches. A child will be potty-trained when he’s ready, not when a book says he should be ready. (My daughter still wore pull-ups at night until half-way through kindergarten. It seemed so huge at the time, but how many college students do you know who still wear pull-ups? Relax, mom, it WILL happen.)
- Stop comparing. Now. Comparison is likely at the root of much of our impatience. It’s not the particular infraction that bothers us so much, it’s that we think our child is the only one doing it. And sometimes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what they’re doing, it’s just…well…embarrassing. If you think your child is the only weirdsmobile, go hang out in his Sunday School class or invite her friends over. All kids are weird – so let them be. Here’s where the suffering part of patience can be a hard pill to swallow (and why I sometimes distance myself from my kids at the grocery store). Refer to Step #2 when tempted to overreact to the Quirk of the Day. I could write volumes on all my kids’ quirks that have come and gone over the years – but that’s just it, they’ve come AND gone, usually without much effort on my part to squash them. Besides, quirks are what give us great stories and anecdotes to share on facebook. (I pity the parents of “normal” kids – how boring!)
- Slow down. We cram our schedules so full of “good things” it makes us impatient parents because we push and prod our kids through the day, nagging them to hurry up all the time. We set them up for failure by pushing them beyond their limits. (Ever tried to drag a baby and toddler on 3 hrs. of errands, only to deal with meltdowns during the last 2 hrs.? Guilty.) Fear is often at the root of our over-scheduling; fear that if we drop an activity our child might fall behind his peers, or that our kids won’t get a scholarship if they don’t have music lessons and sports camps and enrichment activities every moment of their childhood. Maybe it will cost us more money for college down the road when my kid doesn’t get that $500 activity scholarship that only lasts her freshman year (don’t get me started…), but I know my limits, and in order for me to be a patient mom, I have to have “white space” on my calendar and margins in my life. (Shoot, if you took the gas money you spend running kids to and from activities and put it in a savings account, I bet you’d end up with as much as that pathetic activity scholarship!) I want to give my kids the gift of an intentionally slow childhood, instead of 18 years of college prep, because in the blink of an eye they’ll be gone.
- Pray and be willing to accept the answer. When my own plans and fears begin spiraling out of control, prayer and a gentle reminder from the Lord that he knows my kids and their needs, is what sets me back on course. Instead of impatiently praying for God to help my kids hurry up and conform to my plan, I have to be willing to pray in accordance with God’s will for them. His plan for their lives may include some suffering and disappointment in order to develop their character, and instead of interfering and trying to make their problems go away, I need to trust God and patiently allow his plan to unfold. God is not rushing them or comparing them to anyone else, and he can give me the same grace toward my children if I’m willing to suffer the loss of my agenda in exchange for the good work that God himself will complete in them (Phil. 1:6).
Do you struggle in the area of patience? Let God whisper grace and peace to you today.