It started out as an afternoon of trying to organize a closet. The job became even more difficult when my ten-year-old daughter tried to “help” by reclaiming every item I discarded. Then I came upon my old knitting needles. With an, “Oh cool!” my daughter quickly snatched them up. “Can you teach me how to knit?” she asked eagerly.
I smiled. What a great activity this could be for us. For a moment, transported back in time, I remembered when my mom and grandmother used to sit and teach me how to knit. I recalled the quiet conversations we had. How could I say no to my daughter with those thoughts in my head? This could be a great opportunity for us to share some quiet moments together, knitting and talking. I could imagine the pride in her eyes as she finished her first scarf. “We want to make it extra long,” I would tell her, “so you can wrap it twice around your neck to stay extra warm.” I could even envision it pulled up around her face with only her smiling eyes showing through. I hear her, all grown up, sharing with her daughter that her mom taught her how to knit.
What was I doing? We hadn’t even started yet and already I was a grandmother! Of course, I agreed to teach her to knit. I even got caught up in the excitement of looking for my stash of yarn and picking out the colors we wanted to start with. This was going to be so much fun, I thought. Then we began.
“Now this will be practice. Let me show you how to get started and then you can try it.” I told her.
‘That looks easy. Let me try,” she quickly responded.
As she took the knitting needles in her hands, I could feel myself stiffen. I watched her slowly tangle the yarn into a knotty mess. I could feel her body stiffen. I wanted to say, “Not like that.” and “It’s too tight.” I wanted to correct her because I was getting impatient. She wasn’t doing it right! This was not turning into the quiet together-time I had envisioned. Instead, we were both feeling the atmosphere change as I tried to show her again and again. Her plea for me to stop criticizing her made me want to shove that yarn right in the trash. I didn’t. Instead, I bit my lip, remained quiet, and watched. She became more frustrated as I silently debated what to do. Then I told her I would be right back and I walked away.
That was the best thing I could have done because it was then that I realized that this was not a lesson for her in knitting but a lesson for me in patience. It made me realize how many times during any given day or week I am rushing my children to learn something or to get through something. I expect them to be able to grasp concepts and skills that as an adult I see as so simple and straightforward, only to find everyone melting into a pool of tears and anger because my children just couldn’t do it my way and fast enough.
It is really hard to know what to do when you get caught up in those moments and you feel your patience slipping away. Why does it seem that some parents have an overwhelming supply of good will while others can barely get through a few moments before their patience quota runs out? A lot may have to do with a person’s temperament. Some people really are naturally more tolerant and easy-going, while others, well, let’s just say others can use all the help they can get in the patience department.
The most effective strategy you can use is to simply pause. Take a deep breath, count to ten, or do whatever works for you. Sounds too simple but what a world of difference it can make in helping to stop a potentially unhealthy interaction from taking place! This can be just the right amount of time to shift from an impulsive, and possibly hurtful, response to a more thought-out, productive one.
When emotions start running high, you may need to tell your child that you could use a minute alone and that you’ll be back. Then walk away from the situation – which does not mean stomp away angrily. Your child hears a very different message when you respond calmly. You can then come back and use this episode as a valuable teaching moment to talk about appropriate ways to respond when one feels impatient or frustrated.
As I struggled with our knitting needles that day, I became aware of something else: patience is not only about keeping your temper. Many parents try to be nicer than they truly feel, ignoring the fact that they are becoming angry. They slowly simmer, and the resentment grows when a child doesn’t do things the “right” way the first, or even the twenty-first, time. Finally, they erupt over this issue or another unrelated, often minor, incident in a way that is often out of proportion to the situation. Feeling guilty and angry, parents then blame themselves for not being more patient. It is much better to catch your anger or frustration while these emotions are still manageable, before an explosion leaves you feeling upset with yourself.
Patience is about being calm, gentle, and unwavering. It is being tolerant when the going gets rough. It is about remaining steadfast and composed as you strive to make progress toward your ultimate goal of building a strong and healthy relationship with your child. Patience can lead you to evaluate your behaviors and modify them when you see them taking a turn for the worse. It means taking a break if you feel that the emotions are overwhelming you. It is about being forgiving of others when they become less patient, and, most importantly, it is about forgiving yourself when your patience wanes. Parenting really is a lesson in patience.By Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator
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