Family & friends will undoubtedly laugh for a few minutes when they see that *I* am writing a piece on patience. It’s not something I’m known for in my personal life. In my professional career, as a photographer, I often hear “You are so PATIENT!” when I’m photographing a newborn who doesn’t want to go to sleep or a toddler who needed to go to sleep about two hours prior. That’s entirely different though, because I’m being paid to be patient. My kids are just supposed to do what I ask, right? They are now 20, 15 and 13 and if I could do it over I would be so much more patient, but wisdom comes with age and I fear that ship might have sailed. That, however, is not really the kind of patience that I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s a far different form & in this respect, I think that Chuck and I are doing just fine.
Have you noticed lately the pressure that people put on kids to get it right and get it right early in life? The pressure comes from grandparents, teachers, coaches, other parents and yes, sometimes us. My generation wants to raise children who are socially-conscious, philanthropic, mannerly, gifted, good readers, musicians, scientists, engineers, doctors and good LORD, healthy eaters — in a nutshell, “successes in the eyes of adults”, but they want visible evidence of this at age 6 or 8 or 12. (I fear one day I’ll be reading about kids taking the ACT in kindergarten “just to see if little Johnny gets any right!”) Grandparents want all of this because how our kids turn out is generally construed to be a reflection of how they parented us. Besides being utter bullshit, that’s just so irrelevant in the grand scheme of life. I’d like to present some examples of ways we can just CHILL, lead by example & let our offspring come to conclusions that make them better humans on their own.
A few years ago my daughter was faulted for not sending a thank you note (within a week, no less) after receiving a generous gift. Never mind, she was present and thanked the giver when she received it and never mind that she was leaving on a 5-day vacation the next morning. She was “ungrateful.” This year she went on a trip of a lifetime to Scotland to see one of her best friends and more than once I got comments like, “I hope she knows how fortunate she is” or “I hope she thanked you for that”. I have endured many years of snide comments from grandparents about my children being unappreciative or “not living in the real world” because they didn’t immediately express thanks without prompting. Please tell me what child lives in the real world. They’re dressed as Batman and Elsa, for God’s sake. That’s what childhood is. I guarantee you I didn’t send out any handwritten thank you notes without my elders lording it over me. And I can damn sure say my grandma never instituted “manners lessons” as part of sleepovers. Don’t misunderstand me. We should teach our children manners and respect and ask them to write thank yous but the most important job that we have as parents is being the example of what to do. We should thank them for things they do and show appreciation of and respect for them. They should see US writing thank you notes (not FOR them; our own)! If we do that, treat them with a modicum of respect (& fight the urge to call them ingrates) and we are PATIENT, then it will pay off and as adults, they will be the mannerly, respectful humans we want.
My children never had a party where everyone brought something for charity and we took pictures and facebooked it and reveled in the fact that we were raising perfect, socially-conscious humans. They had normal birthday parties with cake (sugar & gluten!) and hot dogs (preservative and nitrate-filled, even!) & they received gifts because, guess what? IT WAS THEIR SPECIAL DAY. No one died, no animals were injured (well, except for the hot dogs) & so far they don’t have criminal records. When my kids were small my mom would collect blankets and fruit and take the kids around downtown to pass them out to the homeless during the holidays. I was dragged along on many occasions & what was intended to be a lesson in giving generally resulted in what felt more like being held hostage by a tv preacher. Once it was forced upon the kids as a tradition and requirement, it lost its appeal. She cannot grasp what went wrong, but it simply became forced. We have done several things throughout the years to show our children it’s important to give. I always give when homeless people ask, no matter what I might think their circumstances are (because they have less than we do) and we most always adopt a family at Christmas. These are things that children can see & learn from without feeling like something is being shoved down their throats. I have strong feelings about littering so my three were always made to pick up after themselves at the ballpark or swimming pool. I hope they take this lesson into their elder years and I am being patient but there is no need to go out and adopt a damn mile of highway and put their name on a sign to influence them to respect their surroundings & give ourselves glory in the process.
The impetus for thinking about all of this was my daughter’s resurrected love of reading. At the elementary school they attended, my kids participated in the accelerated reader program which is not a bad thing in theory but for a period of time all I heard, especially from one of my son’s teachers, was “They must read! Early and often! Twenty minutes a night AT LEAST! If they don’t read now they will never read! Oh, but they have to read stuff on this list, that’s at their level….” Yeah. Notsomuch a way to get a boy to read. (I shouldn’t even GO to the time Wyatt’s teacher asked if he had read any Judy Blume. Apparently “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” was on his level and I’m sure nothing excites a 3rd grade boy about reading like learning what it’s like to start his period. SERIOUSLY.) I digress. As my kids grew, electronics became more popular and they never really became the voracious readers I had hoped for. It was delightful to see my daughter enjoying a rekindled interest in reading and acquiring books. What worked was being a reader myself, surrounding her with books and yes, patience.
A similar thing happened with my son and baseball. In the fall of 2014, he wanted to quit. I know – I’ve heard it all: “Quitters never win! He’ll never go back! He’ll lose his ability!” (At 12? Washed up?) I convinced my husband it was OK to let him quit. He sat out two seasons. He rarely mentioned baseball. But this spring, three days before tryouts for the Babe Ruth league, he announced he would like to try out. He made the team and he’s so into his fantasy baseball team right now it’s almost funny. We didn’t pressure him, we didn’t beg him and we were patient. He just had to come to the conclusion he was wasting talent ON HIS OWN. And if he hadn’t decided to come back, would the world have stopped turning?
So my challenge to you is to force less, lead more by example and be patient. Let’s stop trying to create perfect humans. Let’s let go of a little control and let them have some idle time if need be. Let them be treated like a queen or king on their birthday. And let’s not discourage them by labeling them as lazy, phone-obsessed, ingrates when you aren’t given the praise you think you deserve. I can tell you that the reward you get from seeing kids decide things on their own is so much greater.