Radical impatience: the angry mom’s manifesto

May 5th, 2009

Patience is overrated. Or more to the point, it’s overwaited.

Bad-mouthing patience seems like heresy. Everyone asks how can I be more patient, when will I be more patient, why can’t I be more patient? We’ve seen what impatience can do, and we’re impatient to be patient. It’s a nice idea, but so far it’s gotten me nowhere.

I’m so fed up with myself that I’m not waiting for patience any longer. I’m going to elbow my way to the front of the line.

Maezumi Roshi once said, “If we were truly patient, we would never have any problems.” That tells us that all problems are problems of patience. Things aren’t the way we want them to be, and we want to change them into something else.

Patience is undisturbed with the way things are.
Impatience is disturbed with the way things are.

I’m disturbed most of the time, and that means I’m angry most of the time.

I’m angry most of the time. I really am. Are you?

And so I thought, “OK, I’m going to give up on this patience thing and let myself be angry. I’m going be undisturbed with myself.

Can you believe I said that? I said ,”let myself be angry.” I didn’t say, “let myself act angry,” although I still do that plenty too. I said “be angry.” There’s a difference.

When I let myself be angry, I say something like this:

I’m angry.

When I don’t let myself be angry, holding out for that halo of patience to arrive, I say something like this:


And then I throw something like this:

coffee cup
salad plate
laundry basket
car keys
wedding ring
the car into reverse and screech out of the driveway

That’s a lot of trouble, way more trouble than I want to keep picking up after, and so I’ve resolved to practice impatience. Radical impatience. I’m going to let myself be angry – that’s it, be angry – because the more angry I can admit to being the less angry I’ll be. The sooner I’m impatient with patience the sooner I’ll be undisturbed with the way I am.

Patience! I’m letting you go.

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  1. I needed this today. Thank you.

    Comment by Kristin H. — May 5, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

  2. I keep trying to remember this. One of my favorite things from your book is when you talk about “when you’re tired, just be tired” because it gets really ugly and I get really angry and blameful when I’m tired and trying to be everything else Thanks. Again.

    Comment by Michelle — May 5, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

  3. very radical.

    I want to just allow what is to be what is, in all its imperfection. Anger, sadness, disappointment.

    I want to let things slip without beating myself up about it.

    Let it go and start from here, because that’s always where we are, isn’t it?


    Comment by Rowena — May 5, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  4. Husband suggests my exhaustion may arise in part because I practice so much “patience.” I think he’s on to something. I struggle with the same thing you describe here! Lately I’ve been working on “using my words” more. Claire has recently begun to announce that she feels sad, or mad. A good example to follow.

    Comment by kathryn — May 5, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

  5. Oh my, I too am an angry mother. I am not an angry person, but I am an angry mother. And I look at my child and wonder- why does he lash out like that? Why does he get angry so fast? Well, because he sees me do it. So now I will try to BE angry instead of GET angry, and I too am tired of patience, I am also tired of all the books etc that tell me if I were just more patient, understanding, enlightened, grounded, etc I would be a better mother.

    Comment by ELJ — May 5, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

  6. There’s a myth that having children teaches you to be patient. But in my experience, having children has instead made me realize more fully just how impatient a person I am!

    Thanks for offering another, radical view.

    You rock!

    Comment by Lana — May 5, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

  7. oh i sooooooo relate to this.

    after several whining/screaming/demanding outbursts this morning from satch about every breakfast he chose and then didn’t eat… i totally lost it when he demanded that i make a fourth course of mac n’ cheese. what is it with mac n’ cheese? i want to blame my outburst on the lack of sleep, having returned at 3 AM from yet another trip to the ER. (why are doctor’s offices closed at five when all the kids get sick at night?) so with my son’s screeching exploding my brain into 50 million pieces, i grabbed the box of mac n’ cheese, threw it into the cabinet and yelled – go to your room before i completely lose my mind! he ran and the husband promptly dropped our son’s prescriptions on the counter and flew out the door. (thanks bud)

    is there a Buddhist ceremony for administering medication to a screaming, kicking 4 year old?

    some sort of god i can pray to for mercy, lol?

    to hell with patience – i’m done with it. can we just send everyone to their rooms and call it a day?

    i love you, mae.

    Comment by Wendy — May 5, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

  8. If only I could never leave my room! That’s why I practice: to expand the walls of my room until it encompasses the whole friggin world.

    Mac n’ Cheese takes on all comers. You cannot fight the Mac n’ Cheese. It should win the g-d Nobel Peace Prize.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 5, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  9. All I can say is:

    I’m angry, too!

    There are times I say it.

    And there are the times I act it out.

    Oh, I’m so tired of acting angry… Reading your post, I imagine myself carving out a big ole space for my anger and letting it be there, and letting it roil around in the big space until it goes slower and slower and slower…

    and slower.

    Thank you — I have a bigger heart just now.


    Comment by Stacy (mama-om) — May 5, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  10. What a wonderful concept. I’m always saying patienc is NOT a virtue. I know I have absolute none to speak of, so embrassing impatience is all too easy. (Hugs)Indigo

    Comment by Indigo — May 5, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  11. Being angry is kind of funny … you know how when you’re fighting with your spouse (well, complaining to your spouse about how he never does enough and you never get to do the things you want to do) and he wants you to stop so he says something funny and there’s that moment when you pause and you want to still be mad, but you want to laugh, but if you laugh, you lose the battle, no more fight … I think that is a cool moment, the moment of conscious choice. When it comes down to the choice moment, I’m gonna give up the anger and laugh. I hope.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — May 5, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  12. The more you bottle it in, the more explosive it is when it finally escapes.

    ELJ, your child lashes out because he’s angry. And that’s good. Better that than cramming it down to explode later. I think it’s good to let your child see you get angry. Angry is functional and normal.

    Karen, thank you! And I love the coffee cup graphic.

    Comment by Meg — May 5, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  13. Ah Karen I had an aha moment just now…thank you for writing this.

    Comment by Cat — May 5, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

  14. oh how timely…but i think we’ve discussed the timeliness before 😉

    i literally woke up this morning…
    looked myself in the mirror and declared my inability to practice patience a moment longer.
    i’m in dire need of radical change.


    Comment by Kirsten Michelle — May 5, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  15. I’ve only recently begun to discover how angry I am. I just wasn’t ready to consider it before.

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — May 5, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

  16. This is just what I needed to read today, too.

    I tell my husband that I sometimes think my natural state is impatience – a disconnect between what I *expect* and what *is*.

    Sometimes, I’m able to become more consciously aware of that state and that can help to alleviate it.

    But sometimes, I just have to accept that this moment – right now – is the moment that I need to be angry or upset or freaked out.

    And that’s okay too. The moment will pass. But, like you said, accepting it for what it is can help it pass all the faster.

    I don’t comment much, but I read almost every post here. And I appreciate them all. Thank you. 🙂

    Comment by ZenMom — May 5, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

  17. Radical impatience, I love it. This is a practice I was born for.

    Like ZenMom I rarely comment, but I love your blog and book. Thank you.

    Comment by mommymystic — May 5, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  18. Am I Angry?

    Just spend five minutes with me when I’m behind the wheel and you’ll get the answer really quick..

    Comment by Chris — May 5, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

  19. Better behind the wheel with you than in front? Or maybe, no difference.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 5, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

  20. I love this post and all the great comments. I am angry so much of the time and to hear that others feel that way too is huge. Not to go back to a childhood thing but we were never allowed to express our anger as kids or it was deemed disrespectful. I don’t even remember when I understood this because I think the lesson came at a very young age. Now my exhaustion upon exhaustion comes first from losing my patience, getting angry and then all this ridiculous guilt that stems from losing my patience and getting angry. I hate the cycle. Can I just be angry sometimes and let my kids be angry sometimes? I don’t know what that looks like? Can you do it without yelling? Whatever I am doing now just completely backfires every time because I work hard to keep it all in and end up exploding in the end. thank you again for this post. kelly

    Comment by kelly g. — May 5, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

  21. Very interesting post, Karen – thought-provoking. Thanks.

    Comment by Allison — May 6, 2009 @ 4:27 am

  22. What a relief . . . I have all of this good company in my impatience and my anger.

    I’ve associated impatience as a precursor to anger and anger as something either debilitating because it is bottled up (as required as a child) or destructively explosive (as father behaved.) Trying to find the middle ground has become an essential task of motherhood (and marriage.)My anger and impatience with myself only affected me in the past!

    Thank you for striking a new, illuminated path for us!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 6, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  23. I live in constant, low-level irritation. I am with you on this one! Amen.

    Comment by Anna B — May 6, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  24. I am an older mom than you and most of your readers. My children are in various stages of leaving home. One graduates from college this weekend. WHere did the time go? When they were little, I played little tricks in my mind to help me keep “life” in perspective. When I tripped over their toys for the umpteenth time, I would stop and envision how empty and grief stricken I would be if they were to be “gone” and their toys sitting properly on the shelf. My almost 16 year old daughter is in that “moody” stage. It’s much harder to bite my tongue and let her “attitude” go but I am determined not to take it personally. It is what it is. I really would not give up one moment of any of their childhoods. But I do sit smugly with the knowledge that they will appreciate the depth and challenge of mothering when they too become mothers. I do get the last laugh after-all!

    Comment by Kathleen Botsford — May 6, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  25. Yeah, Karen!

    Viva la Revolucion!

    Comment by Journey Wildly — May 6, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  26. i find myself angry in a type of deep sorrow bordering on complete lack of emotion. the anger so embedded and ancient, so pervasive and undeniably solid that my core is shaken and yet, still.
    little explosions happens. i like them. they remind me to breathe the anger in and out. to eat the anger with my breakfast. to sing it. to transform it while embodying it.
    this anger propels me at the same time it cements me.
    if i look to the trees. those that have deep roots and routes, sacred passageways, i find that i too can tunnel. that i too can create underground change. secretly, with revelry and undeniable revolution.
    just like the spring.
    we are all emerging.

    Comment by c — May 6, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

  27. My son does not like mac n cheese (just noting your comment), but I love this post. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out just how many of my flaws it is okay for the kiddo to see. Sure, he’s see my flaws–how well can anyone hide them? But wouldn’t it be okay to stop trying to be “perfect” and say, yes, child, this is the mom you have. That’s okay.

    Comment by mapelba — May 7, 2009 @ 2:10 am

  28. A friend asked me about anger years before I had children. I answered as truthfully as possible that I didn’t get angry. Maybe I did back then and just didn’t recognize it. But I most certainly do now (with 3 kids) and often simply because I’m not supposed to. In any case, it’s heartening to read from another “thrower of things”. Thank you!

    Comment by Katherine — May 7, 2009 @ 6:50 pm

  29. Me too. And I’m not going to take it any more.

    Comment by Mary Ann — May 8, 2009 @ 2:57 am

  30. is this a change in policy? i thought you were for escorting anger out of house a few years ago? no doubt i misunderstood then. great post. my first dokusan ever i had been sitting about 3 months and was asked what difference it made and the answer sprang to my lips that i noticed how many times a day and how intensely i get mad. i used to think i was a slow to get mad person, but it turns out i am a slow to be aware of my own anger.

    cheers, chris a-l (on a phone where it’s tiresome to do Upper Case)

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — May 9, 2009 @ 5:43 am

  31. Chris, I do believe this is the fastest way to throw it out of the house. Two words. A single breath.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 9, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

  32. now i do not misunderstand. thank you

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — May 9, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

  33. impatience and anger are a nasty duo.

    i have tried acknowledging it too. i am frustrated, i am angry, i am overwhelmed and more importantly this will pass, this will pass, this is only now it will pass.

    but i have discovered a wonderful tool from my daughters. going outside and throwing beanbags as hard as you can. that helps too.

    Comment by underthebigbluesky — May 12, 2009 @ 1:28 am

  34. I've had it many times. (and threw a wine glass into the sink once, and pretended in the end I just knocked it into the sink by accident) Whoops! I was so embarrassed. At any rate, to feel it is good, to know what to do with it, is key. I generally feel I am resenting something when I feel angry and pent up like that. And that is the worst, we only hurt ourselves in the end! Bah!!

    Comment by thisnewplace — November 5, 2009 @ 2:41 am

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