There are two types of patience we can address when talking about parenting. One relates to a paucity of time. The other to the paucity of empathy for oneself and one’s child. I will address the first one now.
If you’re reading this, you have the material resources to provide for not only food and shelter, but also a computer with an internet connection. You probably also have ample resources to provide your children with food, shelter, and probably their own personal devices. What many of us with these material riches long for now is an abundance of time and space to enjoy life and our special relationships, and I don’t mean in a Facebook way. When our children appear to be misbehaving and irritating, it’s often a plea for more of our time and attention. They don’t have the sophistication to articulate these needs, so they express their need for our attention by amping up their signals for attention. We are their springboards, their motherboard, the most important source of reflection on who they are becoming. Treat their annoying behaviour as a compliment that you are vastly important to them! And it’s their job to bring us out of ourselves. Many new parents say, “I used to think I was the most important person in the world. Now that I’ve had a child I feel more connected to the whole of humanity.” Let’s hold onto that precious lesson.
And holding on is hard in many societies. With the advent of personal devices, we can lose connection with our family as we focus on our virtual relationships. Personal devices have insidiously brought work home, so that most people are available waking hours to field work-related texts, emails and IMs. Some suffer from addictions to gaming and porn. My advice: turn them off when you reunite with your child at the end of the day. Don’t turn them on until your child has left for pre-school or school. And if you’re partnered, make time to be with your partner, devices on “off”. Control your own access to technology.
Then there’s creating space in our hearts for our children’s pleas for love and attention, once the device has been turned off. We can enjoy true, beautiful connection with our children when we are quiet enough in our minds to be able to hear theirs. In Non-Violent Communication, this is called finding inner empathy in order to have other-empathy. None of us is a Buddha with limitless time and compassion for our children. We lose patience when they are calling for our attention when we are busy. How to make space to include them in our awareness when we are busy or preoccupied with something? First, take a breath. Acknowledge and validate that you would prefer to attend to something other than your child at that moment, or that you feel incompetent or confused about how to attend to your child’s request for attention. Acknowledge that you would love attention and nurturing. Acknowledge pressure you may put on yourself to be perfect. Know that that comes from a longing to love and be loved. Wonder about how it would feel to allow yourself a few moments to just be, just as you are. Take more breaths. Be. Let yourself off the hook. Look into your child’s eyes. Tell her/him: “I want to hear you. I am here.” Often your child’s incessant pleas, whinging, crying, or coercing will stop there. Take the time to look into each other’s eyes. If there’s a couch nearby, sit on it together. Touch. Notice your breath, your child’s breath.
I would like to share a marvelous experience I had of this with my 11 year old son recently. I had just bought him a battery-powered lawn clipper so that he could earn pocket money contributing to a household job. I didn’t think he was ready for a petrol-powered mower. He was excited about being entrusted with using the machine and earning money. But the excitement quickly turned to frustration and then refusal to trim. He told me repeatedly, “It doesn’t work very well, it’s too weak, we need a proper mower!!” I gave him scant notice, believing that he was just wanting to get out of the job. This went on for a frustrating few weeks, and frustrating for me because I’d fired our regular lawn mower and the grass was getting out of control! One Saturday I pressured him to trim and he repeated the same complaints. But this time he let me see his tears. I stopped. I listened to the unmet need behind his tears. I finally understood that it was precisely his desire to do a good job that was causing his frustration, as the trimmer isn’t designed to cut lawns. Once I saw that his intentions were to trim, and trim well, my heart melted and we could then find a solution to a better trimmer/mower. That experience has added to our library of ruptures and repairs that build a deep trust between us. I am thankful.