Adolescence and the Holiday Gift of Parental Patience

It's the parent gift that keeps on giving, so keep on giving it

Posted Dec 24, 2018

Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.
Source: Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.

Here’s a holiday gift to your teenager to consider: parental patience. It can be costly because the price is understanding, empathy, compassion, and self-restraint. However, it is often worth the expense because the effort is usually appreciated.  

Consider first why it can feel hard to give.

As expression of individuality and assertion of independence increases during the adolescent’s growing up, parents often find the young person is harder to get along with than was the child, and they can feel more frustrated and impatient on this account.  

For example, compared with parenting a child:

Now it can be harder to get the teenager’s full attention;

Now it can be harder to get the teenager’s compliance;

Now it can be harder to tolerate growing differences;

Now it can be harder to get adequate information;

Now it can be harder to have persuasive influence;

Now it can be harder to get glad teenage company;

Now it can be harder to get agreements kept;

Now it can be harder to get household help.

Parental impatience is a natural response to these and other growing frustrations as more resistance from adolescent change unfolds. So, parents need to expect to increasingly feel impatience and yet must beware what can happen when they let this emotion rule.

Here I’m reminded what one parent said to me: “There are times when I’m more patient with the family dog than with my teenager!”

Those parents who find themselves frequently driven by impatience are at greater risk of making ill-advised decisions. Coming home at the end of a long work day, teenage help they expected once again has not been done. “That’s it! I don’t care if you’ll miss the times with your friends. I’m tired of you forgetting responsibilities at home. You’re grounded for the next month! Maybe that will teach you to remember!” Breeding irritation, impatience can drive parents into into feeling offended, angry, critical, and even punitive. But if they elect to levy a harsh punishment in response to continuing aggravation, what are they going to do when a major rule violation occurs? 

However, caught in the frustrating moment, they let their feelings do their thinking for them instead of their better judgment. Thus fatigue creates susceptibility to impatience, and impatience encourages impulsive decision-making. Better judgment would have committed to relentless parental supervision to get a household task reluctantly accomplished: “We will keep after you until you get it done.” 

The secret power of parental supervision is patience, parents resolving to consistently pursue to completion whatever they asked for. “When my parents say they want something from me, they just keep after me until they get it. I can’t wear them out with waiting.”   Parental patience is powerful this way. And in many other ways as well, like those that follow. 

Patience can wait without giving up.

Patience can stay constant to what is wanted.

Patience can stay committed during hard times. 

Patience can persistently pursue accomplishment.

Patience can delay immediate gratification.

Patience can tolerate frustration.

Patience can listen and give a full hearing.

Patience can hold oneself in readiness.

Patience can let events unfold.

Patience can keep on trying.

Patience can enable learning.

Patience can play a long game.

Patience can keep hoping.

Patience can exercise self-restraint.

Patience can resist rushing.

Patience can wait and see.

Patience can keep a person calm.

Patience can refuse to let up or give up.

Patience can be steadfast and determined.

Patience can be a sustaining act of acceptance and faith. 

In various examples, I’ve seen this last strength of parental patience appreciated by an older adolescent who, after getting a lot of rebellion and experimentation out of her system, finally settles more peaceably back into the family structure. “She’s turned some kind of corner and is easier to live with again!”  

As for the teenager, she’s bewildered too. “Why I felt the need to create so much turmoil I’ll never understand. However, no matter how often I broke out, my parents kept welcoming me back. Restating what they wanted, they kept giving me a chance to live by their basic rules, which I’ve finally been able to do because they make sense to me now. They never lost faith in me. They never stopped caring. Very patiently, very firmly, very lovingly, they just waited for me to finally grow up.” 

That's patience for you. It understands how much of what we want from others often takes longer than we wish, just as long as there seems need to be.

So here's to the gift of Patience:. Don’t parent your adolescent without it. 

Next week’s entry: Varieties of Love Relationships through the Adolescent Age