Ever felt like you just can’t stop losing it on your kids?
Me too. And after a lot of years of parenting and coaching families, I’ve realized that we can grow our patience, regardless of how inappropriate or frustrating our kids act.
Years ago, I found myself home with my kids on the first beautiful spring day. I was so excited to open the windows. An hour or so later, the kids did something—can’t even remember what—and I lost it. And I yelled. Really loud. Remembering the open windows, I sheepishly turned to see a couple of my neighbors looking my way. I did what any reasonable person would do—I dropped to the floor where I was no longer visible and prayed that they didn’t actually hear me.
As patient as we want to be, sometimes our patience runs out. We lose it. We say things we later regret. We may even try to hide our impatience from others. Like, you know, hiding from the neighbors.
The word “patience” gets thrown around a lot. So much that we forget what it means. The dictionary defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”
You may or may not believe in God, but as a follower of Jesus, I find the Bible to have incredible parenting advice. The Bible says that patience is a way to love others. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient…” Patience is more than refraining from angry outbursts. Patience is a way to love our kids.
Having patience with our kids is about us—not about our kids.
Our kids aren’t the ones who are “making” us impatient. We are the ones who control our emotions and our reactions to the environment around us. When we lose it—it’s not on that adorable little human who just wrote with a Sharpie on our favorite chair or cut a favorite blanket into pieces. (True story. Post quarantine, come see my chair, draped with scraps of a blanket.)
I wish I could tell you that after my “window drop,” I never lost it with my kids again. That I suddenly realized my irate ways were ineffective in coaching kids’ behaviors, so I became the mom version of Mary Poppins, and our kids magically stopped making me lose it. Patience is still a struggle, however over the years, I’ve grown. I believe, and I hope others agree, I am more patient than I used to be.
So, if you’re wondering how do to grow in patience, here are some ideas to consider:
Notice your triggers. When are you most impatient? Maybe it’s the morning rush of brushing teeth and finding shoes. Maybe it’s most days after work. Or perhaps it’s Saturday mornings when you want to sleep in, but you wake-up with a tiny visitor waiting at your pillow.
When do you display patience? Think about a time when your kid did something socially unacceptable, willfully disobeyed, or had any other frustrating behavior. But instead of losing it, you walked away from that situation and gave yourself a high five. You maintained your composure. Consider how you were feeling at that moment and what you were doing BEFORE that moment. My guess is your tank was full—you were in a decent mood, most of your needs were met, and you had plenty of love to give. You had the emotional and mental capacity to deal with your kids’ behavior. That leads me to the next one.
Build your capacity. Consider the times you’re most likely to act impatiently and come up with a plan to build your capacity during those times. Create margin for yourself before those impatient moments, so you can respond like the times you’ve been patient. Maybe before you barrel through the door and lose it with your kids, you spend 5 extra minutes in the car after work praying or listening to your favorite artist. Maybe you go to bed earlier on Friday night, so you’re ready for the Saturday morning wake-up call. Or maybe you learn to see signs of your kid about to lose it, and you prepare yourself with a few deep breaths and a quick prayer.
Practice self-care. Self-care is getting lots of press lately, and that’s a good thing. We really can’t take care of others, especially the little ones in our house, if we aren’t first taking care of ourselves. It’s often hard to carve time, but if we want to increase in patience, we do that through caring for ourselves. We care for ourselves by getting sleep, hydrating, exercising, having alone time and having time with community. And yeah, if you have littles in your house, you may say it’s impossible. Today take one step toward caring for yourself. It dramatically impacts our patience capacity. Loving our kids well comes from the overflow of how we love ourselves.
Parents, we can grow in patience. It’s a muscle that can be strengthened through practice and by spending time and energy on ourselves. We often hear “it’s not about you,” but when talking about growing in patience, it is actually all about us. If we’re running on empty, we’re probably going to have some parenting fails when our kids act like, well, kids.
So, notice when you’re patient and when you’re triggered not to be. Learn from your previous mistakes. Build your capacity and take a moment to relax with some friends. You won’t be perfect, but you will grow. And if you’re the following Jesus-type, lean into Him for the breakthrough. Patience not only blesses our kids, but it blesses us too. It’s a bi-product of experiencing the goodness of a God who so patiently loves us that we get to learn to love through patience too.