My Strong-Willed Child
Good evening ladies. This is the first of many gatherings for Mothers of Strong-Willed Children. Let us open the meeting with a moment of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
My name is Tessa and I am a mother to a strong-willed child. It has been 30 days since I last lost to my child’s incessant demands and I’m beginning to grow weary once again. Unlike my first child, Shiloh, who proved to be the most flexible child on earth, this second child represents all the payback my mother warned me about. My daughter Noah just entered her 18 month of life and the parenting game in our house has taken full effect. Except most days I truly don’t know if I have what it takes.
I may create some disgust when I say this, but in my experience, I don’t think raising strong-willed children is any different than raising normal-willed children. Both species have desires, it’s just a matter of how strong they are willed to meeting those desires. My first born didn’t come out delighted to behave the way I wanted her to behave. With her, I learned very early on, consistency was the only way to show her those kicks and screams weren’t going to get her what she wanted. Now, as my second born tests these waters, something that took Shiloh 3 times to learn takes Noah 72 times to begin to even sink in. Her determination to do what she wants is frightening, and some days I feel I can’t keep up. Someone hand me some gatorade because my endurance is failing me.
I believe it is my duty and my privilege as their parent (the wise, educated, experienced adult) to show them the areas in this world that are just non-negotiable. I love the idea that having strong-willed children force you into developing and/or fine tuning your will in this life. If you are a people pleaser and can’t handle anyone being mad at you, chances are, a strong-willed child will rule your home. Because that’s something you definitely have to give up. You have to learn to be okay with being the bad guy for the betterment of who they one day will become. And the most beautiful piece to this sacrifice is, even as the tears flow, security and freedom are on the other side of it all because they will learn their boundaries. It's hard not knowing why you can't have dessert for breakfast. No you cannot have ice cream, you’re going to eat what I made you or nothing at all. I promise you, they will eat it. It might take an extra 45 minutes at the dinner table, but they’ll eat it. Stay strong my friend.
Recently, I was talking with a friend who also disclosed that she too owned a strong-willed daughter and in the middle of our sobbing she asked, “How do you know what to stand firm on, and what is it that you just let go?” The only thing I could think of in that moment (and even a week later) was the demand for respect. If either one of my children behave in a way that crosses the line of respect for me, for her sister, for the people sitting next to us in a restaurant, for a kid on the playground, it’s game over. The last thing this world needs is another kid with no respect. I like how Michael Scott puts it, “Respect, is niiiiiceee.”
The most effective phrase we use in our house is “This is not how you get what you want.”
Tantrums are very simple to me. You grab the yellow cup. She screams, throws herself onto the floor, “Mi Mi! Mi Mi!” (she wants the Minnie Mouse cup). By this point I’m already pouring her water into the yellow death trap. I say “How about we use this one?” brushing its handle like I’m Vanna White. The screams get louder, and now she’s hitting me. Now of course I want to give her the one she wants! But the game is now about her behavior. So now I kneel to her level, look her in the eye and this is usually what I say:
This is not how you get what you want.
You can calm down and ask me nicely for the Minnie Mouse cup.
(Screams even louder, and continues to hit me)
This is the point usually when my eyes get a little bigger, a lot more intense, I grab her squishy little cheeks asking her to look me in the eyes and say once again…
This is not how you get what you want.
You can change your attitude and you can ask mama nicely or you can go to your room and cry in there.
(Throws herself against the cabinet, tears rolling)
In my most calm (some days is more calm than others) and loving tone possible I give her a third and final warning…
This is your last chance. You can choose to calm down and talk to me with respect or you can go to your room.
(Not choosing wisely)
Ok, let’s go to your room.
She cries in her room until she realizes she’s not going to get what she wants. After a couple minutes, I retrieve the barbarian and we talk about how she has the choice to be kind and ask nicely for the things she wants. And then tomorrow we go through it all over again.
The biggest thing I want other suffering mothers to know is that this is all not for nothing. Just because my daughter doesn’t change her behavior after one, two, or twelve instances doesn’t mean I get to give up. I say this a lot, motherhood is the world’s worst case of delayed gratification. It is our responsibility to instill the ways in which our children should behave, and they will not waiver from it when they grow up. If we teach them respect now, they will be respectful when they are 8 years old. If we teach them to share now, they will share with those less fortunate when they are 24. If we teach them kindness, they will be kind to everyone they meet. I don’t need her to be a poster child today (even though that would be nice). I need her to be a poster human when we part our ways. If we want this world to truly be a better place, it is our duty to stand our ground on the values and virtues most important.
Strong-will is a beautiful thing. I do not want to lessen this strength of hers. One day she will be a force in this society and I want her to be able to use her will to fight for what is good and life-giving. I do not want to crush her voice. I do not want her to believe her voice doesn’t matter. Her voice is all she has to give to this world. It is my duty as her mother to guide that voice towards good, towards respect for others. If I always give in to her demands, even if they hurt her sister, if they hurt her friends, if they hurt me, then when she’s older she’ll think it’s acceptable to step on anyone to get what she wants.
Not my baby. As hard as this strong-willed game can be, I want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. The pay out will come. And hopefully they turn out to be the next Beyonce and buy you a house one day.