Patience: “The capacity to accept (or tolerate) delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”
That’s parenting in a nutshell. Then again, it’s also marriage, dealing with parents as an adult, etc. Patience is crucial, but also mysterious. Is it patience when a teacher goes red in the face trying not to scream at today’s troubled student? Is it patience when we walk away from conflict in marriage, harboring resentment for a later date? Is it patience when we see our children fighting and walk away rather than “getting involved”?
Sometimes what appears like patience leaves the parent, teacher, or spouse developing a hernia from over-exertion.
The more I work with parents and couples, the more apparent it becomes that we want from our spouses exactly what our children want from us: Love, support, unconditional positive regard, patience, validation, empathy; these are necessary components for a healthy relationship.
“All we ask is that he pick up after himself, keep his room clean, not bother his little sister even if she walks into his room and spills cheerios on the floor, get his homework done on time, behave in class, go to sleep on time, not shout when he gets upset, and not complain that he has a sore throat as we’re running around like lunatics in the morning to get to the bus on time.” Then Mom, who each week has a new list between “All we ask…” and the end of her tirade, looks at me with sincere pleading eyes, and concludes, “Is that too much to ask?”
The answer is yes, but not because the content is excessive; rather, it’s because the approach is suffocating. “We are so patient with him! We rarely scream but he never does any of the things we’re asking of him.”
I find myself feeling suffocated observing these communication patterns week after week. Mom and dad explain that the goodness of their hearts inspire them to provide the array of instructions. “He really can be so special one day, if only he’d just understand… And he needs to understand…” The child surrenders to the battery of complaints, wanting to be anywhere but here. Mopey eyed and defeated, he looks down to his shoes and answers, “Sorry, I guess I’ll try better.”
Not screaming is not patience. It’s better than screaming (unless it gets bottled up into a goliath scream later on), but it’s still not what we are looking for in an optimal relationship.
The same is true in marriage. We often think we are exhibiting patience by not getting angry. If our spouse feels judged, pressured, or not accepted, we have not shown patience; we have merely suppressed our impatience for a little while, empowering it to take center stage at the core of a vengeful behavior later on in the relationship.
Patience is understanding. Understanding that people are different than you. Understanding that your wife may have to change again, in spite of what time it is, and yes, she knows what time it is. That’s why she’s so stressed, and you’re not helping! Understanding that you don’t understand what the big deal is, and it’s still a big deal.
Patience is acceptance. Accepting that your husband does not know what you’re thinking, even though you want him to. Accepting that he is trying really hard even though you don’t see it. Accepting that he still loves you even though he brought out the cookies in a Ziploc bag, in front of company!
Patience is accepting that your son is giving it his all, even though you think he should be doing better. Children don’t enjoy disappointing their parents and teachers.
“So why doesn’t he fix it?! He’s acting so foolish! I don’t get him!”
You’re right, we don’t get him, but let’s not allow our inadequate comprehension to be the impetus for a ridiculous conclusion: that he’s doing it to himself on purpose.
Patience is leaving your plans and expectations at the door, and replacing them with humility. Patience is being humble enough to see that your way is no better than their way, their needs no less important than your needs, and their faults no less acceptable than yours.
Patience is understanding that Hashem runs the world, and hand-picked this struggle, this moment, for you.
In a world where children could articulate their thoughts accurately, we would be swiftly stopped in our tracks.
“All I ask is that he pick up after himself, keep his room clean, not bother his little sister even if she walks into his room and spills cheerios on the floor…”
“I hear you mom, and have no problem with all of your rules. I’m struggling to breathe a little bit because you’re suffocating me with your approach. Please back off a little and let me figure it out my way. All I ask is that you love me and accept me the way I am. Allow me to grow at my own pace. Allow me the freedom to not get it right on the first try. Allow me to breathe, and I will have so much easier of a time respecting your wishes.”
Next time you find yourself “patiently” suppressing your anger, take a moment to redirect your energy into seeing the perspective of your spouse or child. Don’t waste your strength battling frustration as it surges to the surface. Instead, pull yourself aside, and engage in self-talk. Challenge yourself to see this story from the other’s point of view. Imagine, for just a moment, that your way is not the only way.