“Yeah you’re a good mom; you’re so patient with him.”
“I could never be that patient with a toddler!”
“I don’t really like kids because I’m just not that much of a patient person.”
“You’re a preschool teacher?! Wow you must be SO patient!”
They mean well, they really do. They’re trying to encourage us, praise us, or possibly voice an insecurity of their own. All good things.
But they’re wrong.
I know that the title of this post will offend some of you. The idea offended me, too, the first time I heard of it. But bear with me in patience my friends, ask yourselves why I’ve decided not to be a patient parent. And keep reading.
What IS patience?
“But of the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
The fruit of the Spirit passage has always captivated me. I even made a painting as a teenager featuring this passage and kept it hung up in my bedroom throughout high school. I wanted so badly to embody these traits; I felt it was my Christian duty to do so.
What I didn’t realize until several years into adulthood is that Paul isn’t listing the fruit as a to-do list to add to my already over-burdened conscience; he mentions them to encourage the believers of what they already possess because of the Holy Spirit living inside of them.
I feel like I could write an entire book about just that, but alas, this isn’t an article about the fruit of the Spirit. It’s about patience.
I love patience. I mean, I don’t enjoy it, but I love seeing it in myself, and I recognize that it’s given to us to be used whenever we need it. I just don’t think parenthood is the time for that.
“Patience” is translated in the New King James Version as “long-suffering”. Strong’s concordance sheds light on the Greek origin: makrothymía–from makrós, “long” and thymós, “passion, anger”. In other words, long-anger; waiting sufficient time before expressing anger. Strong’s also draws a parallel in English: being “long-tempered” they say, as opposed to being short-tempered. This word is used to describe God himself, and true long-suffering can only come straight from God, as Galatians 5 suggests.
Long-suffering is for times when we’re asked to endure a painful situation for whatever reason, and it isn’t appropriate or good to express our negative feelings about it.
Long-suffering is for, well, suffering! It makes us able to endure unpleasant things without complaining.
But I’ll be the first one to volunteer NOT to suffer through my parenting career, thank you very much! And if I’m not suffering through this whole ordeal, then I won’t actually use long-suffering at all!
But how do you not suffer during it?
Wouldn’t you rather not sit through another temper tantrum, cussing under your breath and patiently waiting for it to be over? Would you rather avoid the (im)patience while your 3-year-old insists that she dress herself? How about the patience required to endure yet another school “talent” show?
My answer is not to avoid any of these events. They are all good and normal and healthy for us and our kids. My answer is to introduce a whole new thought pattern into the situation.
Understanding. *mic drop*
Let me paint a picture of this:
Today I got home from school to a half-naked, sweet little terrorist. He greeted me with a fleeting smile and proceeded to bypass his own mother while running into the arms of his dad.
Then he insists upon immediately partaking of his favorite beverage: Nursies.
So, we sit down on the cluttered couch, and I arrange his too-big-body into a semi-comfortable nursing position for myself, while he continues his non-verbal demand.
“ta ta ta, ta ta ta”
Just to make sure I don’t forget, I guess.
He flashes me a ridiculously happy look and dives in.
10 minutes later he wiggles down while chanting “buk buk buk”, picks up the nearest board book, and *chucks* it at my face.
Let me tell you, those throwing sessions with his dad are really paying off.
Now, Eli knows that throwing books isn’t allowed. If I had a nickel for every book I’ve taken away from that kid, seriously. So I’m sitting there and the words of Magda Gerber, Adele Faber, and Haim Ginott are all ticking past my mind, and I’m trying to ask Holy Spirit how to respond.
But more than anything else my brain is yelling, “What the f***?!” And I feel my anger rising up.
Then I look into his little face, though, and everything changes.
I see in his eyes fear, exhaustion, curiosity, and maybe a little defiance, too. My anger dissipates (though not the throbbing in my cheek), and my focus turns away from myself and back toward him. I find myself filled with compassion, and understanding.
Of course he’s afraid. I’ve responded with rage after this kind of thing before.
Of course he’s exhausted. It’s already 1 o’clock and he didn’t sleep well last night. He’s trying to tell me he’s tired. The daily program I’ve made for him isn’t meeting his needs.
Of course he’s curious. He’s still learning about the world, and specifically, about what it means to have a parent (which will translate into what it means to have a Father God), and I haven’t always responded consistently. It’s his job to find out what will happen.
And of course he’s a little bit defiant. He’s quickly approaching the big 2, and one of the main tasks of this developmental stage is to learn how to appropriately assert his own will. This isn’t a great example of him doing it well, but he has to start somewhere! It’s my job to teach him!
Suddenly my anger is replaced by understanding. I muster up all my compassion, I show it on my face, and I say, “You’re having a hard day, aren’t you? I see that. But books aren’t good for throwing, only balls are. If you’d like to read a book, please give it to me gently.”
Understanding, along with compassion supplied by God himself, allowed me to take a less-than-ideal situation and rather than gritting my teeth and suffering through it, I could unlock a bit of my child’s perspective and feel connection with him instead.
This incredibly rewarding type of experience is why I would take 10 doses of understanding over 20 doses of patience with my littles any day of the week.
Thank you for reading.
What do you think, patience or understanding? or both? Comment below with your thoughts to keep the conversation going!