We have lots of names for parenting methods in the natural world. Gentle parenting, attached parenting, non-punitive parenting, respectful parenting, Christ-based parenting, positive parenting... the list goes on and on!
I've used many of these labels before, but they seem to miss the deeper truth. And sometimes, I've come across parents trying to parent to the label, with good intentions. But again, it misses something.
Yesterday, I was reflecting on this missing element. I think it's patience. Patience, perseverance, foresight. These things are fading away in our society of instant gratification.
When we think of instant gratification, our minds might wander to things such as expecting beautiful latte art a minute after ordering at a drive thru, expecting a big document to download immediately, and expecting access to ten seasons of a TV show instantly without any commercials or lag.
That's not the downside to instant gratification. That's not what worries me. This way of living in the here and now is damaging to certain higher ideals, such as marriages, good wine, and fulfilling careers. Even more so, has anyone noticed the art of patience belongs in the very depths of parenting?
Our society glorifies instant gratification in parenting.
We are conditioned to believe that children must obey, and NOW. Children must be born perfect, they must perform perfectly, and it must happen right this moment. To delay is to fail.
If I tell my child it's time to go, then that means RIGHT NOW. I am supposed to tell my children to stop that crying this MINUTE. Get up off the ground at the count of THREE SECONDS. Jump the MOMENT you hear my voice. Get over whatever IT is and do as I say IMMEDIATELY.
When parents decide what is right or good for a child, they then set about on a path to achieve that as soon as possible. Not only in the day to day parenting with threats, bribes, and even direct physical hitting, but also for bigger skills through lessons, tutors, remedial classes and exercise. It all becomes a flurrying reality for the child so that a skill or behavior is incorporated as soon as humanly possible.
And children for the most part can do this. That's not what I'm denying. If you tell a child to stop crying RIGHT NOW and you enforce that with glares, threats, even physical pain, most children can stop crying RIGHT NOW.
Did anyone ask if that's really the path we want to take as parents, though? What are we losing to gain instant satisfaction?
The art of patient parenting is about looking at the process itself and paying attention to the long term more than the short term performance. It's about realizing that children are people today, and they are aging slowly and deliberately, coming into their own place in the universe. Our NOW NOW NOW expectations might be attainable, but at what cost?
As summer slowly ebbs into autumn and the leaves begin to drift down into the swimming pool, I sit here, reflecting on one such incident where patient parenting bore fruit. See, at the beginning of summer, my four year old son could happily climb into the shallow end of the pool in his life jacket and briefly dip his face into the water. I knew he had inside him the ability to do more. As his parent, I knew with confidence that he was capable of swimming independently, not only by his age and stage but also his innate abilities. I acknowledged that, but instead of giving into the desire for instant gratification, I set about to discipline myself some more on the art of patient parenting.
The thing about patient parenting is that it's as much about the gradual development of the parent as it is about the child.
I spent the entire summer patiently taking my children to the pool nearly every day. I disciplined myself, working hard to provide a fun, relaxed environment so that he was excited to get into the pool consistently. I dedicated myself to getting up off that relaxing lounge chair and into the chilly water, playing with him instead of barking orders at him.
His development inched forward, led by his internal motivation. Which is the best motivation in the world. It's the one we as parents need to realize is worth unlocking and worth protecting at all costs.
As the days went by, he shed his lifejacket. He moved from a dog paddle to full strokes. He started dipping under the water for dive sticks. Soon enough, he was itching to cross the rope to the 10ft area. I again had to discipline myself, to watch him, to prevent any anxiety from seeping over to him.
And then it happened. One day, he saw DH diving into the water and asked to learn this "trick" as he called it. And my husband stood on the edge, giving him basic pointers. And my four year old vaulted head first into 10ft of water as if he had been told to learn it NOW and to do it this way IMMEDIATELY and to OBEY ME.
But, that's where the similarity to instant gratification diverged. As his head popped up out of the water, his eyes wide as saucers, practically glowing with joy, he shouted out, "I DID IT! Mama, I DID IT!"
He did it. For him. In his own way. On his own time. The final piece of patient parenting is realizing this isn't about you or for you. You're not raising a child to obey your every whim or comply to your every interest and need. You're in it for the long haul of dedication, of serving a little person as he slowly and painstakingly unwraps who he is and what he can do on his own terms and for his own benefit.
The two outcomes appear the same on the surface. If you tell a child to listen to you and spank her a few times, chances are, she will listen to you.
If you remind a child two thousand times, chances are, she will listen to you.
Parents make a mistake when they only look at the surface outcome. They want that instant gratification and deem it as the most valuable aspect of parenting. But, what are they missing? What are we losing? Who are we breaking in our mad dash to get what we want when we want it?
When we short circuit a child's development, this includes impairing the growth of physical coordination to perform a task. It means running roughshod over the cognitive organization to problem solve. It means jumping ahead of the emotional maturity to process stress. It means throwing a wrench into the steady advancement of executive functioning skills to properly complete everything. Living in the here and now as parents means we are depriving our children of deep, long lasting self-actualization in their own lives.
We are receiving a hit of instant gratification at the expense of our children's futures! On the surface, instant parenting and patient parenting look similar and parents might ask, why should I waste my time helping a child ten thousand times over and over again? She needs to do what I say RIGHT NOW. I know she can do it! She just needs to respect (fear) me and be made to do it.
And this way of thinking misses out on every moment of the process.
This is forgetting that we are working with people. We are forging a life long relationship with someone who just learned to speak our language and is still trying to understand why water is wet and why her balloon floated away. This way of viewing the world looks at the very beginning of the race, right at the starting line, and forgets to set a healthy and successful pace for the next 26km.
Our need for instant gratification is dissolving the edges and contrasts of life. It's removing the beauty and meaning of growing together with others. We're chugging down a $3 bottle of wine and saying it's the same as a decades-old Chateau Latour. It's all wine! Give it to me NOW!
This is a problem because our thirst for immediate satiation in parenting involves immature, unprepared, unique people who depend on us in acute ways when they are young.
This isn't as trifling as arguing over vintage wines. This is arguing over the human journey, the very moments in daily life that shape every one of our neural connections, that etch wounds and love into the fabric of our being.
When we start to value people over instant gratification, we will recognize why helping someone ten thousand times is the more loving and wiser path. When we start to understand the life long implications of building healthy habits, emotionally validating others, and creating multi-faceted skills versus immediate obedience, we will stop craving instant gratification from our children's performances and start looking for those little moments in life that seem to go on forever as they slowly weave together a strong, beautiful tapestry in the lives of our children. We're in this for the long haul, so don't run yourself breathless in the first mile.
Related on the blog:
A Short Time Ago