If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in parenting five kids (now aged 2, 12, 14, 18, 19), it’s the need for patience. That has not come easily to the second most impatient man in the world, but parenting has certainly exercised and strengthened this spiritual muscle over the years. So much so, I now believe that patience is Christian parents’ greatest need. Here are six areas of parenting where I’ve learned (and am learning) to exercise patience.

Wait for intellect to develop
Like most parents, especially like most home-schooling parents, when we were starting out we had high hopes for our kids to be experts in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Gaelic by the age of three.

My older boys still remind me of when I tried to teach them the Hebrew imperfect conjugation when they were four and five. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but most young parents over-estimate the intellectual abilities of their children and try to push them too hard too fast.

Even with teens, though, there are some lessons that just can’t be learned until the brain connections are formed. Now, when our kids can’t seem to grasp something, no matter how hard we or they try, we just wait a few months and try again.

Then, “Ping!” It’s there. In seconds.

Waiting can save a lot of work and stress — for us and them.

Wait for maturity to kick in
Sometimes we might look at teens and wonder, “When will they ever grow up?” They can get so excited about trivialities such as computer games, nail paint, muscle size, clothing brands, engine capacity, Vines, memes, etc. They can get so desperately upset about catty comments, rejection, and put-downs. Their social skills and not very social or skillful.

We comfort, we cajole, we counsel, we correct, we scream; and they still revert to toddlerhood.

A year or two later, we notice they’ve left childish things behind — not just their toys but their tantrums — and maturity has crept up on them. Priorities have changed and they are even able to look adults in the eye and talk to them.

Wait for discipline to work
Perhaps this is the toughest area of all in which to exercise patience. We use every tool at our disposal — graduating from the ruler to the rod to the slipper to the belt to the whip to the scourge to the nail remover to the rack to banning Facebook (OK, the last one’s a joke), and still no change for weeks, months, or even years.

Then one day we realize, “Hey, we haven’t had to deal with that problem for ages.” Like all fruit, the fruit of discipline can be a long time growing. Sometimes it’s because although the child realizes they’re in the wrong, they are so proud that they won’t admit to it or immediately change their ways. Rather they want to do it at their own (slower) pace. Other times it’s because they genuinely need to work through it in their minds so that it becomes a conviction rather than just a convention. Remember, overnight fruit is rarely good fruit.

Wait for lessons to be learned
We can warn and warn and warn about driving too fast, using the phone while driving, etc., and our words just evaporate as they touch their ears. Their first accident with resulting repair bills, insurance deductible, personal injury, points on the license, increased premiums, etc., usually teach more than any of our words. Physical, financial, legal, and social pain, are often the most effective teachers

Wait for purpose to clarify
We all want to see our kids have a purpose in life, to have a sense of direction, to choose a course of study or work that is meaningful and rewarding. Instead, they can meander from job to job, from course to course, from ambition to ambition, from identity to identity, sometimes for quite a few years.

We watch with increasing anxiety and frustration, we pressure and push them to get a move on, to get a grip, to dedicate themselves to something — anything.

All seems lost, when, wonder of wonders, they find their groove, their niche, their true identity and purpose in life. They have a new energy, a new enthusiasm, a new focus, and a new drive. Everything falls into place.

Wait for the soul to be saved
If there’s one thing we want for our kids above all, it’s that they know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from their earliest years. Yet, although we can do so much for them as parents, we cannot force this, we cannot make this happen. If it’s hard waiting for their purpose to clarify, for lessons to be learned, etc., it’s hardest of all waiting for them to be converted — partly because it’s our number one priority, partly because the stakes are so high, partly because without this we feel all our parenting will have been in vain.

Patient waiting doesn’t excuse us from teaching, correction, discipline, exhortation, etc., but it does save us from exasperation, exhaustion, and expiration.