‘Patience Doesn’t Feel Patient’ by Sarah Sprague – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer
They say that bravery doesn’t feel brave or fearless because if you’re not afraid it is something other than bravery. I guess that patience is one of those things, as well.
From the outside it looks like calm and peace but from the inside it can feel more like the tested limits of self control.
Learning to be patient is learning how to separate what we feel from how we act. It is learning to accept our feelings while choosing to not act on them. It is learning to say to ourselves:
I can be angry without acting angry.
I can be impatient without acting impatient.
I can be upset without acting upset.
I can be hurt without acting hurt.
I can feel without acting on my feelings.
I can feel without reacting to what I feel.
When I choose to act patient I slow down. I speak more slowly than I normally would. I lower my volume and I pace my words so that they won’t rush together in an explosion of words that no one will understand and that will act as a precursor to yelling. There’s a rhythm to this patience that doesn’t feel patient. A slow rhythm. A careful spacing of words. A slowness to how my body moves as I make sure that no part of me will gain a momentum that will feel like hitting or grabbing or being anything other than soft and gentle.
- When my toddler hits again.
- When my seven year old is upset that he doesn’t understand his homework and is avoiding doing it instead of asking questions.
- When my four year old has snuck his safety scissors into the other room so that he can cut apart a travel pillow to see what is inside, and the entire world feels like it’s covered with tiny Styrofoam pellets.
- When the two-and-a-half gallon water dispenser has been opened by someone curious and it has flooded the kitchen.
- When my three year old fed the fish every container of fish food all at once and the twenty nine gallon aquarium needed to have all of its water cleaned and replaced at bedtime.
I slow down to try and run in quicksand. I go slow-motion like walking through an empty room with a strobe light. I try and move my body through a thickened air. And I try to slow every word down so that it comes with a peace and gentleness that doesn’t show any of the frustration that I feel.
I grasp at all of the excuses that my child doesn’t yet have the words to offer. I try and see what positive or curious motivations they might have, or what stresses may be driving them to this place. I try to wrap every part of my heart and brain around empathy and love.
He sits at the table fiddling with his pencil. Nothing has been done on his worksheet, not even his name. He has gotten up to do half a dozen things. I have to make dinner. I have to sweep the floors. I have to do all the things on my to-do list.
“Issac.. Can you please do your homework?” I ask.
“Okay.” He says. And he picks up his pencil and stares off into space.
I am feeling anything but patient. My daughter has not napped today and she claws at my knees to be picked up, asks to draw on his homework with his pencil, and wants no substitutes for this thing that she cannot have. So now I’m being screamed at. I tap at his worksheet and he tells me to help Keenie calm down. So I walk away to find her some playdoh so that we can work on his homework together.
I come back. Nothing’s been done.
Breathe. Slow down. Find the reasons. Seven hour days at school with fifteen minute recesses. Not nearly enough time to decompress after school. He’s having a hard time reconnecting to what he’s trying to do.
I move slowly, lay my hand on his shoulder as softly and gently as I can. On contact my own tense muscles relax. This is my child. My son. He is seven and I love him dearly.
I plant a kiss on his head, and sniff his hair the way I used to when he was tiny, when he was a toddler. It smells just like him.
My other hand comes down to his worksheet. I’m standing behind him, my body enveloping his. Supporting and soft and patient, not angry and looming. My finger pointing to where he needs to write his name. Slow voice. Quiet voice. “Isaac, what does this say?” I ask. Trying to get him to look at the worksheet long enough to begin writing.
He writes his name.
“Now what’s the next question?” I ask. Soft. Slow. Clear. Strong.
He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t move.
I tap the paper. His eyes move to where I’m pointing.
“Can you read this for me?” I ask. He reads the question out loud.
“Do you understand what the question is asking?” I ask.
The dam breaks. He doesn’t understand. He screeches frustration and tells me that he didn’t understand in class.
My frustration is gone. I understand now. We go over what he can do if he doesn’t understand something in class. I ask him if he wants me to help him figure out how he can answer the questions or if he wants me to write a note on the top so that his teachers will know he needs more help with this topic. He chooses to have me try and show him how to work out the answers.
I sit down next to him. He’s fully engaged now.
Patience did not feel patient at first. But then. At the end of it, when I’ve responded well? When the crisis is past. When the messes have been cleaned up? When I’ve helped my seven year old slow down to re-focus and understand what he refuses to understand? When I’ve had self control and when I have acted patient?
That is when patience feels patient. When we’re past the thing that has me pulling my hair out. When we’re past the thing that has me wanting to move faster and raise my voice. When we’re past the thing that has me wanting to throw a tantrum all of my own.
That.. Is when I feel patient. Radiant. Powerful.
And it takes my breath away.
Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.