Small human beings learn by mimicking and so they learn patience by mimicking patience. Perhaps this means that a larger human being somewhere many thousands of generations back took a long and patient breath as the smaller human being in his or her arms squirmed. Perhaps the smaller human being saw this long and patient breath and internalized it and began to understand. Perhaps all of the patience in the world is a copy of one sigh.
— Paul Ford, What I’ve learned from fatherhood
I’m most aware of my shortcomings when I lose patience with my daughters. Of the many things I know I need to improve on, it’s the one that I wish the most I could fix with the flip of a switch.
“Oh, I see the problem, sir — your patience switch was turned off. It happens sometimes… There you go, that should do it.”
But of course, it doesn’t work like that. Yesterday I was watching a mother trying to get her 3-year old son to stop screaming at her. After a few minutes they were both yelling — which isn’t a very effective way to diffuse a situation like that. The thing is, I’m sure she knows that. And before I had kids I probably would have judged her. Not any more. I’ve made enough bad decisions in the heat of the moment that it would be hypocritical of me to judge anyone for their parenting techniques1. In fact, I’m pretty sure that no matter what decision I make at any given time (should I give her the cookie, or is this a teachable moment?), there’s about a 50% chance that it will be the wrong decision.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to do better — to be better. I’ve already made most of the mistakes I didn’t want to make with my daughters. However, that doesn’t stop my desire to be a better dad. I’m painfully aware of how cheesy that sounds, but hey — it’s the truth.
I often ask my wife if she thinks we’re doing it wrong. It just seems like other parents have it all together, all the time. Yet, every once in a while I see cracks in the veneer — an honest moment on Twitter, a knowing look of camaraderie in a coffee shop — and I know I’m not alone. We all love our children very much. We’re also all human and selfish. And patience — like money — doesn’t grow on trees.
So maybe I need to stop trying to be “a better dad”. That’s just too vague (how will I know when I’m “better” enough?). Instead, I need to focus on that one sigh. The one breath that could be the difference between letting a difficult moment pass, or letting it get the best of me.
One moment of patience. That will be my focus in 2014 — in parenting, but also online, and in my work.
Will you join me?
Well, except for leashes. Seriously, don’t put your kid on a leash. Unless you have twins. Then do whatever you need to do to stay alive. ↩