“I don’t have patience,” was my retort when my spouse and I would talk about having children. I wanted children, dearly. I was simply afraid that I would irreversibly screw them up in a way years of therapy couldn’t fix. I started my children’s “therapy fund” before they were born, and long before the college fund. I’m only half-joking.
I convinced myself I’d be an unfit mother through endless renditions of how I would hurt them with my flaws. One such flaw is my lack of patience. If you’ve ever so much as met a child, you know that patience is required. If you’ve spent more than ten minutes with one, you know that, like caffeine, there just isn’t enough in the world.
The opportunities children present for us to tackle our flaws are
relentless abundant and the need for patience starts with the first cry. From there it only gets harder, from the “terrific” twos and testing threes to the fierce fours and the feisty fives. As I practiced, I was rather surprised to learn that patience is a practice. Like gratitude, like exercise, it is a habit formed and perfected by doing it. It does not, unlike my earlier belief, come as a gift to some and pass over others (me). I could only become a patient mother by practicing it, over and over and over. Practicing it also means that I will fall short, time and again. Patience then means I will show myself the same – wait for it – patience when I slip.
I never learned patience. Instead, I saw adults comfortable complaining about slow service or refusing tips because of it. They would huff in line, keep up running commentaries about the other drivers on the road, and insist that I would “hustle” more quickly than I managed to. I emulated this flaw and refined it to perfection.
I’ve been hyper-aware of just how hard patience is, in part inspired by the bustle of the holiday season that I wanted to opt out of. I had countless items shipped to avoid stores. We stayed home the day after Thanksgiving. Still, I noticed how wired our society is for speed and instant gratification. I heard my son complain about when his food was coming: to both moms at home, but then out loud at a restaurant. It was time to act. Yet it’s been hard, as the models for impatience are everywhere.
Last week I was driving through Dunkin’ Donuts (I mentioned my caffeine obsession earlier), and ordered a wake up wrap. When I arrived at the window and paid, they handed me my coffee and asked me to pull in the parking space for the drive thru window. Perplexed, I responded, “But there’s no one behind me.” The cashier replied, “I know, but we’re on a timer, we get in trouble if it goes off too many times.”
I moved, but found myself troubled. Are we in so much of a rush that customer service is timed? It doesn’t only pressure the staff, but the customers as well. If my money isn’t counted, or I take the time to put change back in my wallet, the timer may result in an employee getting sanctioned. Somehow along the way we’ve joined the bustle and forgotten to teach an essential life skill.
Beyond confessing my worry about this trend, I can only offer our attempts so far to teach patience. While we model it imperfectly, we also talk directly about it. “Patience is a skill, just like reading. It once was hard for you, and you practiced, and it’s become easier. Patience is the same way, practiced with deep breaths, reminding yourself that others are doing their best, and looking around at all that is cool about the world while you’re waiting.”
Since I’m sure we’ll be working on this for a lifetime, please share your tips!