There are a lot of parenting books out there. And a lot of classes. I think I've read them all and taken them all.
And yet I still make plenty of mistakes. The ideas are simple; it's the execution that's not. What makes a good parent? In general it's the same qualities that make a good human being. I'm not sure we actually need all those books or classes. We just need to work on our character -- particularly patience and self-control.
Patience seems a particular challenge is today's fast-paced world of constantly changing online news and text messages. Witness the risks some motorists will take weaving rapidly in and out of traffic to save... possibly a few seconds.
Patience has become a lost virtue.
Someone I know was waiting for a prescription to be delivered. The pharmacy didn't act quickly enough for her liking or expectations so she kept calling them. Finally when the medication arrived, there was a note attached: "Patience is a virtue." Indeed it is -- a lost but necessary one.
What's unique about parenting is that it demands we work on these traits 24/7. We are constantly confronting issues or situations that try our patience. We are frequently in danger of losing control. The only break is when we're sleeping -- if we're lucky!
Having patience with other human beings can be a real challenge. Patience means that when your daughter is singing loudly in the hall (as mine is now), you don't yell "Shut your mouth, I'm trying to work!" but politely compliment her on her voice and ask her to sing a little softer.
Patience means that when your five-year-old asks, "Why?" for the 20th time in 10 minutes, you don't respond "Because I said so" or "Stop asking so many questions," but smile and either give the correct answer or promise to look it up later.
Patience means that when you work hard to make dinner and some of your children turn up their noses at it, you don't throw plates and berate your family. Instead you calmly point them in the direction of the cereal and milk.
Patience means that when your school-age children announce on Sunday night at 11 that they need supplies for the next morning, you don't insult their organizational ability or their teachers, but add the items to your shopping list and reassure them that you will get it as soon as possible.
Patience means that when your kids are wrestling on your bed and kicking off a round of motion sickness, you stop to take pleasure in their playfulness and connection with each other -- before gently nudging them off.
Patience means that when your teenagers won't leave your room as the clock ticks midnight, you prop your eyes open just a little longer and appreciate that your adolescents still want to talk to you.
Patience means that we treat our spouses with at least the same level of consideration.
And patience means that our children are (for the most part) unaware of our exhaustion, our financial stress or any of our other challenges. They only see a loving parent.
It means we're focused on our children's needs and not on our own.
This is not something we learn from books and classes.
It's something we acquire from constant daily practice. And our children give us many opportunities to strengthen this muscle. Patience means we need to lift up out of ourselves and be the person we know we can be, not the one we feel like being. They don't call it a virtue for nothing.