Focus On This Moment

Patience is a virtue. Who hasn’t heard those words? The words themselves are deeply embedded in our thoughts, but the behavior – the actual practice of patience – is another character trait that has fallen by the wayside in society today.   Our hurried, overscheduled culture in which everything must happen immediately is taking its toll on our willingness to be patient and work things out. Instead, we often spend minutes or even hours, several times a day in a state of impatience because things are not happening fast enough. We want to get it done…now! 

Ask yourself these questions…

  • Am I exhibiting patience to my children? 
  • Am I working to teach this character trait to them?
  • How can they best learn to practice patience in their lives?

The Problem with Practicing Patience

Here’s the problem with practicing patience. We don’t think we have enough time. Time has become as much of a commodity as gasoline. We can’t get enough of it. We need more of it. We are constantly depleted of it. We are trying to do so much every day that we have no time left for the practice of patience and the opportunity to exhibit it to our children.

You may be one who has a personal plan mapped out for each day. You have everything scheduled…a certain amount of time to get to work, certain work activities on your tightly scheduled Day Timer, certain time and plans for dinner and on and on. But, we can’t control everything. Even starting out the day, you can’t control what happens between home and work. There could be an accident that throws your entire day off schedule. We need to remember that the more carefully our moments/days are scheduled, the fewer interruptions our schedule can sustain.

We are always rushing headlong into the future. We never seem to have the time, as we have frequently heard but seldom practiced, to stop to smell the roses…to just relax for a moment and be thankful for what we have. Worse, when things get off track, we may engage in a running vocabulary of negative attributes against both people and things that slow us down. You know, those mean little words that pop into your head? Maybe they even pop right out of your mouth. Do your children hear them coming from you?

This is not the soil needed to grow patience, and, unfortunately, many of us model this behavior to our children from a very young age. The four-year-old girl sat in the back seat of the car as her mother waited in a drive-through bank line. “Why are we waiting, mommy? Can’t you just honk and make them move?” This was a turning point for this mother. She suddenly realized from her daughter’s question that she was raising an impatient child…that, as a result of her own actions, she was modeling impatience for her daughter each day. 

Nurturing Patient Soil

If we want to have more patience in our lives – and to teach such to our children – there are several fundamental things that we should realize, including:

We Don’t Own TimeThe first thing we must do to nurture patience is to change the way we think about time and its purpose. Do you think of your time as a right or an entitlement? Do you think that you own the time that surrounds you each day? Do you feel a constant concern about the things you have to do today? If you do, you’re not alone; a lot of people think this way. But in order to change your focus you should ask yourself this…is time really mine or is it something that I share with everyone else?  Of course, it is the latter. Therefore, we have to realize – and to some extent expect – that other people and events will enter our personal “time zone” and change the schedule that we had previously established for ourselves.

We Can’t Control EverythingThings happen outside of our control that impact our schedules and change our plans.  However, we try not to think about the potential of such events until they actually happen. We push away from the idea of contingencies, instead limiting our time by developing more ironclad schedules. But think about this for a minute: you can help relieve some of your impatient feelings if you don’t schedule yourself so tightly…if you leave a little room for unforeseen events so that, when they do occur, you have some “wiggle room” to address them. Things are going to happen that change your plans…don’t be surprised by them, actually expect them to occur.

Our Schedule Is Not Always that ImportantThe importance we place on our time can be out of balance with what other people have going on in their lives…sometimes we should simply subordinate our plans to others in order to create more peace in our lives. This may be an extreme example, but it enforces this point. The 15-year-old girl watched her boyfriend lay in ICU in a coma after sustaining a head injury in a totally unexpected car accident that night. For the next six weeks the boy’s family gathered and essentially lived in the ICU waiting room, waiting for the fifteen-minute opportunities every couple of hours that they could get in to see him. For six weeks they were in a time bubble. Doctors came and went. Nurses came and went. Aides came and went. But in that waiting room, time changed. It wasn’t like the schedules of the outside world were that important any more. We need to realize that people have important things going on in their lives – hopefully not as severe as this – and we must be prepared to yield our time on many occasions to others around us.

So, teach these three things to your children:

  • We don’t actually own our time, we share it with others. Therefore, we may need to make adjustments to circumstances caused by this shared environment.
  • We can’t control everything that happens. We need to leave room in our planning and daily schedules to accommodate the routines of others. 
  • There are more important things in life than what you have to do today. Sometimes we have to drop or forgo what we were planning to do in order to be there for others.

The Practice of Patience

Once again, we here at Good Choices Good Life are placing the examples that parents set – in this case, the extent to which you practice patience in your own life – in the forefront of how you teach your children to act or behave in a certain way. Yes, you can certainly offer words of logic and coaching that are very helpful to your children as they work to learn patience in their own lives. But, what you do will speak much louder than what you say. If you want to develop patience in your child, you must, in addition to your words, exhibit the practice of patience in your daily life. Here are two simple examples:

Standing in LineYou’re waiting in a long line with a tight schedule. You need the thing you are waiting in line for, so you cannot walk away. What do you do? Do you get antsy and anxious? Do you begin to fidget? Do you complain? What do you do? The one thing you can control is the way you decide to endure this bump in your perfectly scheduled road.  First, you can sooth your anxiety by asking yourself what is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t get out the door in the time you have allotted yourself. Next, you can talk to someone in front of or behind you. Sometimes friendships are made this way. If you remain calm, and chat with a stranger you will add a positive experience to your day that wasn’t on the schedule. When your children witness you conducting yourself this way, they are seeing patience in action.

Driving Down the RoadYou are driving down the road and you know you’re running late. Will you do what many other commuters are doing? Will you speed up and drive aggressively even though it doesn’t save any time? What if you decided that late isn’t the end of the world? What if you just took a few deep breaths and chose to be patient with the drive? If you have this kind of commute daily with your children, you will have opportunities to exhibit patience. It is through such patient actions that you will teach patience to your children.

Your Child Makes a Big Mistake.  Maybe you caught him playing games, and not doing his homework. Maybe you saw her hit the girl next door and start the fight. Maybe you found some cigarettes in one of your child’s backpacks. All justifiable moments when you could fly off the handle, scream out at them and rant about how bad their punishment is going to be. Punishment, there is no question that it should be handed out. But doing so in a calm and collected manner will not only create a better environment to discuss this bad choice with your child, but also to reveal to them how, even in difficult circumstances, that patience can be practiced.

In summary, you have to have patience in order to teach it effectively. There is a lot to explain to children about the benefits of practicing patience – the ability to build better relationships, the opportunity to make better choices and the chance to live a healthier life to name only a few. You can look for opportunities to discuss these points with them. But, you must also be a living example of patience – day in and day out – if you want them to understand and appreciate the benefits of practicing patience in their own lives. 

"Patience can't be acquired overnight. It is just like building up a muscle. Every day you need to work on it."
Eknath Easwaran

Written by Heidi Densmore

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

“It is very strange that the years teach us patience…that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.” Elizabeth Taylor