Sometimes, Patience Is All You Have

When I was a kid, my mom would tell me several things over and over again. She’d always say, “I’ve told you a hundred times.” In some cases, “a hundred” was an exaggeration; in others, it was an understatement.

The point was the same: she was trying to get a message to stick with me, and I was not having it.

One of her repeated phrases was to save money and to never go into debt, especially credit card debt. She’d tell me all the time. When I got my first job as a busboy at a Japanese steakhouse, she’d tell me to save my money. She told me to save my money and stay out of debt before I went off to college. She told me to save my money and stay out of debt when I graduated from that school.

Did I listen?


I mean, I listened in the sense that I heard her, and I said, “I get it, Mom,” and I even generally agreed with her — which is more than I can say for the other advice she’d give me. But did I actually follow her advice? No. I didn’t save any of my money. There were too many cool instruments I could buy and fun concerts I couldn’t pass up. I got a credit card because I wanted to establish credit, but it wasn’t long before I was booking a flight to California I didn’t actually have the money for. I did the opposite of what my mom had always told me.

I must have driven her nuts.

It wasn’t just the lessons about money I ignored — I did my own thing when it came to relationships, to friends, to curfews, and to mohawks and other various hairdos that make moms cringe.

My whole life, I ignored my mom…until I didn’t.

Fortunately, I figured out she was right about the friends I hung out with by the time I was in high school and realized I didn’t want to become a dropout.

I figured out she was right about the people I dated — maybe a beat too late to avoid some serious heartbreaks, but I still figured it out. And her advice coupled with my own lessons from tough experiences have turned into some great wisdom I’m not likely to ever forget.

I figured out the money thing, too. Maybe I was ten years late to the party, but I got it. I learned how to budget, how to spend less, how to save money, how to get out of debt.

But the point of the story isn’t that my mom was right for so long and I was wrong for so long (even though that’s true).

The point is this: my mom was patient with me.

It probably came close to killing her, but eventually, no matter what, patience was all she could really practice, anyway. How do you make your kid do anything? How do you make them learn the lessons you want them to learn? How do you make them take your advice?

You can’t. You can make them stay in their room, for a while. Those days can’t last forever. Eventually, all you can do is love them, be there for them, give them your best, and then…be patient.

I know this now. I teach middle school kids. I’ve been teaching for almost ten years. What do I have now that I didn’t have much of when I started? A lot of things, actually. But more than anything else, patience. At least, I have much more of it now than I did.

There are days when I feel what every parent feels for their children, what every friend feels for another friend, what every person feels for another person at some point: the absolute pull-your-hair-out frustration or the white-knuckle desperation or even the suffocating despair that comes when the other person just isn’t getting it.

This kid isn’t interested in his education. This girl will not listen when it comes to her toxic friends. My husband or wife will not take this seriously. This person keeps choosing self-destruction.

You keep telling them. You keep showing them. You try yelling. You try being nice. You word it this way, and then that way. You put more creative energy in how to help them or guide them or save them than this dude’s Rube Goldberg machine.

You’ve tried a hundred times. A hundred ways. Still, this person will do what they want to do.

In my classroom, I’ve found that the best tool becomes the only tool left in some cases: patience.

What my students don’t need from me is frantic frustration. They don’t need panic from me. They don’t need a desperate attempt to control them. They don’t need anger or bitterness or condescension.

What they need is patience.

I know this because I’ve seen it play out enough times now. A student who didn’t get it at the beginning of the year figures it out by the end of the year. Or a student who never figured it out while they were with me comes back four years later and says, “Hey, look at me — I figured it out.”

I know this because patience is what I have needed. Again and again and again. I’ve needed patience through some of my most stubborn phases. Some of those phases lasted a day. Some lasted years. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m in a phase now for which I need patience.

I’ve been a recipient of patience and an observer of patience enough now to know what it looks like and what its benefits are.

Patience won’t smother. Patience won’t blame. Patience won’t manipulate or attempt to control. Patience won’t seek retribution for not getting in line. Patience won’t get bent out of shape when things don’t work out in the short term.

Patience shows up. Patience continues to show up. Patience reminds me to bring the best of what I have, regardless of what I get back. Patience plays the long game.

There’s not much we can control in this life. Patience is sometimes all we have. And patience is sometimes all we need.

Maybe the person for which you need patience will figure it out tomorrow. Maybe they’ll figure it out next year. Maybe they won’t.

No matter what, patience will provide us the best way through. Take it from my mom. She’s seen it a hundred times.

Originally published at



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Paul Heggie

Teacher and communicator in Philadelphia. Endlessly in search of coffee and ice cream.