Being a parent I have discovered that I do not have endless patience. Like a muscle that has been regularly exercised, I hope that my patience has strengthened through raising children. But when they are giving out the medals at the Calm Parenting Olympics, you will find me applauding in the stands, not on the podium.
For a long time I believed that this lack of infinite patience was preventing me from being the mum I wanted to be. At the end of my tether, after yelling like a fishwife yet again, I would beat myself up for failing to stay calm and promise that next time I would do better. But next time, exactly the same thing would happen:
- Me (to son): “Please tidy your room.”
- Son: ignores me
- Me (to son): “Please go and tidy your room.”
- Son: pretends he didn’t hear
- Me (a little louder): “I said go and tidy your room. Don’t ignore me, that’s really rude.”
- Son: “It doesn’t need tidying. It’s fine.”
- Me (getting wound up now): “It does need tidying… [long list of reasons why it does need tidying].”
- Son: “Stop stressing. I’ll do it later.”
- Me (well and truly wound up now, high volume): “If you don’t go and tidy your room right now I will do X” [followed by a tirade of emotional messages]
Not pretty. My post-argument analysis would oscillate between blaming him for being a pig and (once I’d calmed down) blaming myself for not having the infinite patience that was clearly required for non-shouty calm parenting.
It was only once I trained as a parenting coach that I realised that having limited patience didn’t make me a rubbish mum, it just meant I was a human being. We all have limited patience. There are some amazingly laid back people in the world who don’t ever seem to get riled by anything – but even they have their breaking points (and sometimes all the more shocking because unexpected). If we really want to be good parents we need to recognise and manage our limitations rather than aspiring to impossible ideals.
In essence, I have learnt the real secret of calm parenting: only ask twice. If I ask my children to do something (or to stop doing something) and they don’t co-operate, I now know myself well enough to predict that if I keep asking and keep asking and engage in reasoning or pleading or threatening and keep asking again, my buttons will get pushed, my emotions will go sky-high and in all probability I will end up shouting.
So now, if I time my request well (so it isn’t interrupting anything important), state it clearly with a reason, repeat it no more than twice, and it isn’t complied with, I don’t engage in debate, I don’t shout, I don’t threaten, I don’t cajole, I just follow through with a suitable consequence. Technology privileges are temporarily removed (the TV or the WiFi go off). And if that provokes an outburst, well, I am still calm enough to walk away and ignore it.
Of course, being a not-perfect parent I don’t have a 100% success rate. I still get it wrong. I forget and find myself reasoning, threatening or shouting, and slipping back into old habits. But I try and catch myself, forgive myself, and put myself back on the right track. And now that I have given up aspiring to a version of a perfect parent who had endless patience, I have become (most of the time) a little more like the mum I had always wanted to be.