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Yes, You Can Be That Patient Parent

Four steps to support yourself to progress towards being a more patient parent

"Dr. Laura....I've already given up on my New Year's Resolution to be a more peaceful mother because I've blown it over and over...and it's only the third week of the year!" -- Sylvia

How are you doing at keeping your New Year's resolution?

(a) Great!
(b) Not so great.
(c) I've given up on keeping my resolution.
(d) I gave up making resolutions a long time ago because they always fail.

If you answered anything other than (a), join the club. Change is hard. If it were easy, we wouldn't have invented the idea of using the new year to give us some momentum.

iStock/Used with Permission
Source: iStock/Used with Permission

But that doesn't mean it isn't worth aiming for change. It's only the first month of the year. We have a whole year ahead of us to practice. To practice being more patient, practice pausing before we rush in, practice empathizing when our child expresses inconvenient feelings.

Because that's what parenting is—a practice. We may get more skillful at it, but we never get perfect. Perfection isn't possible, and it isn't even the goal. The goal is love.

And aiming for perfection actually makes us less loving to ourselves and others, so drop that perfectionism like a hot potato, and let's go for something better, something worth aiming for—Love!

So if you haven't been perfect at your New Year's resolution, what does that tell you? That you're a failure as a parent and a person? That your child is impossible? That you might as well just give up? NO! It tells you that this parenting gig IS REALLY, REALLY HARD!!

This next year will pass and you and your children will get a year older. Wouldn't you also like to look back in a year and see that you've created a more peaceful, happy, home? The only way to do that is to keep re-committing to your intention, and take it one step at a time.

So don't give up. Every bit of progress toward your goal is worth celebrating.

You know how your child does better when you give him or her more support? That's true for all of us. So figure out what support you need, and give yourself that support. Every day, read or listen to something that keeps you on track. Expect set-backs. Two steps forward, one step back still moves you in the right direction.

Four simple steps to support yourself:

1. Commit yourself by saying your intention aloud as if you're already accomplishing it. Write it down where you'll see it every day. For instance: "I am becoming a more patient mother (or father)." You might even just have one word that inspires you, like "Patience."

2. Each morning, get into the habit of deciding one step you'll take toward your intention. For instance: "Today I take a deep breath and calm myself when I start to feel stressed with my kids." Write that down and put it where you will see it over and over to remind you.

3. Every day, forgive yourself that you didn't do it perfectly. Start from the premise that you will miss the mark sometimes. Maybe a lot, in the beginning. Maybe all day long! But this is a practice, remember? Every time you're more patient, you're rewiring your brain—so it gets easier. Remind yourself that you're on a journey, headed in the right direction.

4. Record how things went that day. Then figure out the next step to get back on track. Refine and Repeat.

So every day, you make a journal entry like this:

"A tiny bit better today, but still really hard to stay calm when I feel frustrated. Tomorrow add a mantra: 'It's not an emergency' or 'He's acting childish because he's a child...'"

"Today was terrible. Tonight I will get enough sleep. Tomorrow I will try again!"

"I think I'd be more patient if I were less stressed about getting them into bed. I'm going to start the whole bedtime routine half an hour earlier so I can be patient when they run around after their bath, and I can really enjoy reading and snuggling with them."

You may find yourself working on the same step for a month. That's good. It takes at least that long for a new habit to stick.

Assume you'll be taking lots of steps backward. That doesn't mean you've failed. As James A. Michener said, "Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries."

And, I would add, the ninth and tenth.