Irritation, anger, frustration. You try your best to be a patient dad, but sometimes you lose your cool, and afterwards you feel awful. This is a chance to visit with yourself, and learn to do it differently next time. (The first in a two-part series on how a dad can cultivate patience and what that means to your child.)
My boys wanted fancy shields to go with their swords. Before leaving for school and kindergarden they asked if I would make them one each later that day. I said perhaps and kissed them goodbye.
For most of the morning I thought about this. There were so many other comittments I had to take care of. Sorting out firewood for a workshop at our farm. Clearing a conflict with the builders who are mending the roof. Making lunch for a few people.
I was asking myself if I could find the patience I needed truly to enjoy creating shields together with the boys. And I wasn’t sure I could.
But there was one thing I was sure of: if I were to make the shields, I didn’t want to be a stressed, irritated, impatient father dominating the workshop so I could finish fast. I knew I’d feel bad about that later, and I’d be disconnected from my boys. What’s the point of that?
Tolerating the present
There is a time for some things, and a time for all things; a time for great things, and a time for small things.
Miguel De Cervantes
Patience–we crave it as dads. And it can be frustratingly elusive at times. I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave about to make stress and preoccupation disappear, so that I was more gentle, calm and present with the boys at will.
What I have found is true is that patience–like fresh water or good, rich topsoil–is a limited resource. And we can deplete it from a lack of care and attention.
Carl Jung (a father of five), said that the devil has no patience. Maybe the devil wasted it all being upset, making plans to change the world, staying busy fighting what was, until his patience just plain ran out.
Jung was also fond of saying that in your patience you have your soul. Soulfulness–being in our fullness, feeding ourselves at the roots, revelling in the moment–now there’s a slower, gentler way of relating to our lives and children.
This soulfulness grows from our capacity to accept what is, and to acknowledge that all beings, including ourselves, unfold at their own, intrinsic pace. We cannot rush the present.
Being patient is about respecting ourselves as well as others by accepting our true natures and our differences.
It’s about being in the moment.
And that’s a good thing for us dads to learn: how to shift from being intolerant of the present to tolerant of the present.
Listening to our hearts
We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.
Patience is an acquired skill. Some have more of it, others less. When we lose our patience, we may blame ourselves, dive into a shame hole and wallow about in the darkness. That’s ok, as long as we know how to get out and learn from the experience.
So what are some ways to learn to be more accepting of life’s unfolding, moment to moment, in unexpected ways?
A lot of good fathering is good re-parenting, knowing how to give ourselves what we need so that we are able to give our children what they need.
Our impatience indicates a rupture in the relationship between our inner landscape and the surrounding world. It’s a heartfelt cry for help, a need for limits, a desire to set boundaries, and a sign that we are running low on resources.
Our wisest response is to turn our attention to ourselves. Not with anger, fury or judgement, but with gentleness, compassion and curiosity. Our ability to welcome these blips of intense emotion determines our ability to learn from them. And with gentle compassion to release the unrealistic expecations we might have on ourselves.
Maybe this seems a bit counter-intuitive. How can I become a more wholehearted father by taking my gaze off my child?
Well, partly because our inner world so powerfully impacts family harmony and the cosmos of our children. Our emotional state forms the context for their development.
Caring for ourselves
This is why becoming more patient with our children requires we first become more loving and patient with ourselves: practicing self-care is a fundamental habit of the well-natured dad. We can cultivate our ability to see when we’re out of our depth, and in need of a time-out. And learn to willingly and habitually replenish our resources.
In moments of impatience we may be flooded by stress, anxiety or other forms of psychic pain. Caring for ourselves is about recognizing this suffering, familiarizing ourselves with the triggers, and knowing how to comfort ourselves and heal.
This ability to sense our own depletion may take some time. It builds as we consistently meet our own needs with a deepening love and patience of our own foibles, patterns and behaviors. One step at a time.
But there’s a lot to be gained from relaxing into our natural rhythm, our baseline. From here, we can meet ourselves and our children with greater patience.
There is greater clarity in this place. Here we can act consciously, rather than react unconsciously. This is the empowered dad, who is able to choose to be present with his child. When I make a clear choice to be present as a dad, I say no for a while to whatever else is calling on my attention.
With this deepening awareness of your inner landscape, you will know what works for you, moment to moment. You will know how much time you can realistically set aside. And when you act on that knowledge, you make an agreement with yourself. This feeds into your time with your children, and your ability to join in the fun wholeheartedly.
The alternative is that you unconsciously feel coerced, pressured, obligated to make that shield, and your frustration with time bleeds into the experience. More pain for you; more pain for your child.Practicing self-care is a fundamental habit of the well-natured dad. Click To Tweet
When all else fails–forgiveness
This happened to me a few weeks ago. I had a ketchup day. One of those days when everything comes together, and tasks, decisions, meetings and incidents splurt out all over the day. I was a mess.
When the boys came back from school and kindergarden, I was worked up, frazzled. They were both excited to be home, yet I couldn’t find the patience to be with them, to listen, to slow down and be present.
I rushed about. They tried to keep up. I was immune to their sweetness, their humour, their little voices. My important tasks took precedent.
By dinner, I felt awful.
When I put them to bed, just before turning the lights off, I told them I had something to say. I asked them to please listen carefully, because it was important to me.
I described everything I had on my plate that day (the boys yawned and rolled their eyes saying it was more than they could take in). And I told them how I had felt uncomfortable, uneasy, stressed. That I was at my limit.
And then I asked their forgiveness. I told them I had been impatient with them, and I was sorry. Because there’s nothing I love more than spending time with them. And this day, I had forgotten that. I had planned more than I could handle. I had raised my voice, and I hadn’t listened to them.
I told them I love them, and that means I want to learn from that day and do things a bit differently next time. There was a moment of silence (I like to think something went kachink in their hearts), then they asked me to read them a story.
Asking our children’s forgiveness is acknowledging our own humanity. They see a father who struggles, suffers, learns and grows. If it takes us down a notch or two from a heroic pedestal, so much the better. Our relationship grows stronger when we’re true to our nature.
Whether we articulate our feelings or not, children notice our energies anyway. When we acknowledge what they are experiencing, and own our story, we validate their experience and create a stronger connection with our children. This is accepting ourselves in the presence of our children. And it teaches them to do the same.
There is no richer soil than this in which to grow mutual respect and patience.
Slowing down, bit by bit
So what happened with the shields? Well, when the boys were home again, we had a really sweet time in the workshop.
I had set aside an hour for us, and I had decided we wouldn’t finish the shields that day. This gave me a lot more spaciousness to really enjoy playing together.
We settled in on the benches and chopping blocks and imagined what a good size shield might be, and what would be a cool shape. We thought about the best way to hold the shields. We thought about how to attach the handles.
The boys had some great ideas. For the rest of our time together, we cut out the shields from board, screwed on some leather straps and painted the shields white.
Instead of trying to complete the entire project at one go, we broke it down into manageable pieces and gave ourselves some time too.
Two weeks have passed now, and the shields are still lying in the workshop. We’re waiting for the right time for us all to continue working on them. Corbin says he wants a black Raven on his. Quentin wants a black Wolf.
We’re imagining how cool they’ll be once they’re done. Two wild and fearsome knights–Raven and Wolf–will roam the woods with their long swords and shields.
I’m waiting for them to tell me when they’re ready to continue, waiting for their spark to reignite so that we’re all excited to create together.
All in good time.
Question: If you made it this far, I’m guessing you’ve struggled with impatience at some point. What is moving through you now? Below you can share your experience, your thoughts and tips for what you know about becoming a more patient dad. And if you could use some inspiration for creating more time and space in your life, you might want to explore my ebook “Seven Steps to a Lot More Energy as a Dad“.