Patience is a virtue, but can it also be a hindrance to effective parenting? I’ve always tried to be as patient as I can with my kids, and for the most part I think I have been. Sure, sometimes when a kid throws a block at your face point blank you end up giving them a firm Flair Chop to the chest. But something like that is more out of instinct than out of anger. And I really do think that sometimes a kid needs to be yelled at, but always with a purpose behind it and not because I lost my cool. However, lately I’ve been wondering if my patience with my kids has left them devoid of a healthy amount of fear of their parents.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want my kids to be afraid me. I don’t want them dreading when Dad gets home from work, or being anxious around me for fear that I might snap. But I do want them to feel at least a sense of urgency when I ask them to do something, and maybe even a small quake in their bowels when I use an angry tone. I think that as a perfectly healthy amount of fear a kid should have of their parent.
My kids don’t have that. Years of asking them nicely to clean up the playroom has created the expectation in them that if I have to ask two, or three, or fifteen times that it’s OK. Nothing to worry about, Dad won’t get mad. Until he does. But then it’s weird. It’s foreign. It’s something to be entertained by, not something to light a fire under their little butts. They are yet to realize that despite my patience and this seemingly odd sternness, the hammer will come down nonetheless.
Just yesterday, they made a giant mess of fake Easter basket grass all over the floor. Which by the way is maybe the worst decoration ever. Even under normal circumstances you’re finding random strands of that crap here and there until June. However, their mess was no accident. It was purposely thrown all over, rolled in, tossed in the air, and spread around. I was displeased. They assured me not to worry, they’d clean it up. I stayed calmed and tried to believe them, but I knew that there was no way it was going to happen. I told them that if they didn’t clean it up, they would get nothing – no dessert, bedtime stories, no getting tucked in, no songs, no nightlight, no anything. Despite the fact that they made absolutely no progress in cleaning for over an hour, I stayed patient and reminded them they needed to clean it up before bed. Though because they assumed my patience was endless (and also they can’t tell time yet, so telling them there is 20 minutes to bedtime is as useful as telling them it’s banana o’clock), the time came and they were shocked.
They cried, they yelled, they turned on each other shockingly quickly, but ultimately they still didn’t get it. They asked for help getting their jammies on, and they asked if they could have a light on to read books. When we told them no, they asked why not. They didn’t fear the threat, so they didn’t respect the repercussions. They have been conditioned to expect another patient request, because more often than not, there is one. So where is the line? Definitely somewhere between the second ask and the fifteenth. If three tries is good enough for baseball, probably good enough to apply here. Though the kind of request matters too. Asking for them nicely to not grab each other by the neck feels like two too many chances. Only giving them three tries to ride a big kid bike without whining about being scared feels like not enough. Or maybe not, I mean the bike has training wheels, its really just a glorified tricycle so get your tiny feet on the petals and let’s go kid.
So maybe I should fight against my better nature and try to be less patient. While I’m at it, maybe I should be more greedy to. Those little mooches take a shocking number of “tastes” of what I’m eating, perhaps the hammer should come down there first. Start with denying them the option to lick the spatula when my wife makes cookies, work up to only asking twice to put on their shoes.