On Patience…

…because Anyone can wait; what’s important is how One acts during the wait.

“He that can have patience can have what he will.” Benjamin Franklin

The final act before our departure from the lake was the group photo of all the kids sitting on the steps of the house. We have a number of these pictures, and if I could find them all in my cyberspace photo collection, they would evidence the quick passage of time via the changing faces of the cousins.

After the whole group shot taken with tripod and timer, the cousins were finally released from their assigned step positions and crammed themselves around the camera to see how the pictures turned out.

They have no idea what it was like to wait for pictures to be developed before seeing that Grandma’s eyes are closed.

Delayed gratification.

Allie and I were just talking about this on a walk the other day. The topic had been a “millennial ” friend who was in the process of starting her third new job in less than a year because “It just isn’t my dream position.” We considered how both of us are approaching 50 and we still seek that “dream position.”

Patience.

Good things are supposed to come to those who wait, right?

My perspective on delayed gratification and the process of waiting and hoping for something was notably affirmed during my first year of teaching. I taught fifth grade at an independent school with a significant cost to attend. One of that school’s treasured traditions is the family style lunch. Teachers sit at round tables with 6-7 students. Lunch is served via serving dishes placed at each table, and teachers help students to practice both manners and polite conversation during the meal.

During one particular lunch, I asked the question of my table, “What are you hoping to get for Christmas?” After receiving no immediate reply, I specifically directed the question again to Teddy. He gave a few moments of polite consideration to my query before finally replying, “I guess I could use a new coat this year.”

I was completely confused by his answer and needed to debrief it with my mother by phone that night. As a kid I had an actual list of all the things I hoped I might get for Christmas. I can still feel the wishing, wanting, hoping and at the same time knowing my list would never be wholly fulfilled. Mom suggested, “It sounds like your students want for nothing.”

Wanting nothing.

I cannot imagine. And I vowed then, long before I had children of my own, that I would not deprive my future children of wanting.

It was not that Teddy was a spoiled brat. On the contrary, he was an outstanding model of good character. But he did not know how it felt to want something that he did not already have.

I did not expect my first job to be my dream job, nor do I think that I ever want to want for nothing. For me, wanting and hoping, and having that dangling carrot of reward somewhere out in front of me feels right and gives me reason to progress, to push forward; to hope for and feel joy when hope is realized.

But even the perfect cup of coffee is now available without wait via the Starbucks drive thru. An Amazon Prime world of instant gratification makes instilling this kind of patience and delayed gratification tolerance in my children a real challenge.

Today’s children do not know how it feels to wait until you get home to know if someone called them. There is no need for them to wait for leftovers to heat back up on the stovetop or oven when three beeps of the microwave and 60 seconds results in a hot meal fast. No need to wait until 7 pm Saturday night for a favorite TV show; we have Netflix! Honestly the longest, most frustrating wait for my kids seems to be for the iPad to recharge.

Are we living in a world that no longer considers patience a virtue? Or are we allowing new technology to limit the opportunities to practice what is still an important trait of good character?

It would be difficult to deny that so much of what children want can be instantly gotten. Entertainment? Stream it online, download the new song, follow a YouTube tutorial, text a friend and know immediately whether he has seen the message. Need an answer? Google it! Hungry? Vending machine, gas station, fast food, or pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less will satisfy. Need new shoes? Zappos will have them on your doorstep the next day without even the charge for that convenience. Communication? Heck we get so much of it we need filters to block the unwanted and an option to decline that which is “inconvenient!” Who bothers to leave a troublesome voice mail anymore? Just text ur msg in abbreviated, spell checked, text suggested fashion!

One might begin to question whether patience ranks in a top ten list of attractive character traits. After all, those who wait patiently might otherwise be labeled “passive,” “not busy or productive enough,” “too accommodating,” “mild mannered,” “quiet,” “resigned,” or “lenient.” Ouch!

Patience is a virtue.

Modern conveniences give less opportunity for us to practice patience and delay gratification, but patience is still a top priority trait for happy, successful, productive people. Things that really matter do require patience to attain: education, meaningful relationships, spiritual understanding, and appreciation of natural and artistic beauty. I want all of these for my children. And so I commit to keeping patience at the top of our list of family values.

Teaching and Practicing Patience.

There are so many ways that parents can help to instill this virtue in the family. And one need not resort to technology boycotts to help your child practice patience. Consider these suggestions:

1. Puzzles: Try working those that cannot be completed in one sitting. Crosswords, Sudoku, and even online games with others that require a wait time between plays. “Words with Friends” as an example.
2. Fishing
3. Needle crafting or sewing
4. Reading a book that requires more than one sitting to finish
5. Learning to play an instrument
6. Learning a language: Computer coding or American Sign Language are two less obvious examples.
7. Cooking
8. Caring for a pet: From feeding to grooming and exercising.
9. Play a board or card game: Monopoly, Scrabble, Sequence, Battleship, Chess, Checkers, Canasta are a few suggestions.
10. Plant something: A garden, a flower, a tree.
11. Get a pen pal: If you don’t want to find a stranger in a faraway place, consider a relative or even you as parent might consider penning letters to your child that must then go via post office delivery to your recipient child.
12. Count down the days until a significant event: A birthday, anniversary, Halloween, or vacation departure. Start pretty far out!
13. Go hunting: You need not kill anything if that’s not your thing. Sit and watch quietly and patiently to take the bunny’s picture or go hunting for a specific plant.
14. Take up bird watching
15. Make time real: Set timers, provide watches, have clocks, and mean what you say. If you say, “In ten minutes,” stay true to your word. Have a visible calendar and allow your children to put what’s important to them on it.
16. Let your child save up to buy something he wants: Resist the urge to loan him the last $2 to buy it early.
17. Delay gratification deliberately: Do not immediately attend to your child’s every request. Give yourself permission to finish your task before fulfilling your child’s demand.
18. Model patience: Hold your tongue when you are frustrated by a wait; take a hike to see a waterfall; commit to teaching yourself a new skill; find a chair in the sand and watch the sun set.

In a mixed up, hurried, technologically advanced, road ragey kind of world, we all may benefit from a little more time spent smelling roses.