Before I had kids I did not understand the personality of the strong-willed child. I didn’t really understand very much about children in general, but definitely nothing about the various ways that children can interact with their world.
But, it did not take long to begin my education once I became a mom. I gave birth to our first daughter just before I turned 22 after having been married just under two years. Now, here we are after 14 years of marriage and seven children ages twelve and under now share the space we all call home.
It has been quite a journey.
The blessing of motherhood is a humbling experience. I learned quite soon after having children that I was not nearly as patient as I imagined myself to be in my youthful avoidance of conflict.
I also learned that my coping skills for interacting with difficult people would no longer serve me very well as a mom.
As the mom of a strong-willed child, I learned I needed a backbone.
The Greatest Gift My Strong-Willed Child Gave Me was a Backbone
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I think as parents we have this way of coming up with a really fantastic story of what we imagine raising children will be like. We imagine birthday parties of grandeur, laughter, and smiles. We see visions of tickle fights, game nights, movie marathons, bike rides, and more.
What we often fail to intertwine into these fantastic moments of parenting bliss are all the painfully ugly moments of life: the temper tantrums, sicknesses, arguments, general attitudes from children, laziness, snobbery, and more…not to mention the truly heart wrenching times like miscarriage, disease, and death.
Life is not always like a Hallmark special….
In my life experience, I truly had a pleasant period of time as a mom for several years. It was GREAT…until it wasn’t.
When my firstborn daughter hit about 3 years old, my entire world flipped on its head. Suddenly my sweet little communicator of amazement, who had learned over a hundred signs in sign language by the time she was a year old (and has not stopped “talking” since), became a force of unforeseen proportions.
And, I was woefully unprepared.
I recall the day my world flipped. We were sitting on the back porch, enjoying a lovely day. My twin sister was living with us at the time, we had three children, including a newborn, and it was just a generally nice day. My daughter asked me for something (though I now have no idea for what), and I said, “No, sweetie, you can’t.”
And, without a second thought in the world, she walked up to me and smacked me straight across the face.
I. WAS. STUNNED!
I calmly picked her up by the shoulders and carried her to her room, all the while singsonging a version of, “Okay, sweetie, you’re going to have a timeout right now. It is not okay to hit mommy. I think you need a few minutes alone in your room.”
The entire way she thrashed around like she was trying to escape an attacker.
I placed her onto her bed calmly and turned to walk out, but little did I know, this would not suffice for my daughter. She promptly bolted straight out of the room, thus beginning a fight-to-the-death scene between a grown woman and a three-year old.
No matter what I did to calmly handle the situation, it only made things worse.
If I spoke calmly and quietly, she screamed. If I held her tightly, she thrashed. There was no known path that ended in calm with my gentle approaches…
I can’t recall if it was this particular day, or another, but in a very similar scenario moment, attempting to “give a time out”, I recall literally holding the door knob to her bedroom, because she refused to leave the door closed if I closed it. After she tired herself out fighting to open the door on the other side, she proceeded to fling every single book she owned at my feet under the door.
I felt like I was trapped in a horror movie…only this was my life!
And, it sucked.
This kind of thing went on for the next three years at least. And, I was worn down to the bone emotionally. Not only that but my child was a master manipulator, and would ONLY do these tantrums when my husband was at work. The moment he came home she turned on the charm and became angelic. When I attempted to tell him about the day, he doubted me. He just could not believe that this sweet little girl was doing what I said…
…Until he came home early one day in the midst of one of the tantrums. Finally, we were on the same page in the chaos.
It took me YEARS to figure out that gentility could not be the foundational mode of parenting with this child.
My passive parenting methods were only fueling her confusion and behaviors as she sought to gain control in a scenario that she perceived to be weakness.
You see, I am a people-pleaser by nature. Standing up for myself and holding boundaries does NOT come natural to me. I learned a lesson at a very young age that was being disproven in my adulthood: staying quiet and just “going with the flow” was NOT going to work any longer as a mom, not if I was going to keep an orderly life in my home.
Related: What Are Boundaries Anyway? And Why Do They Matter So Much?
I had a LOT to learn.
Truly, I cannot say that I came to the end of this season of education until my daughter hit about ten years old. Even at this point we experienced a daily “war” over what she perceived to be entitled to in this life, and what we valued and wanted to teach.
The Lord had been teaching me much over the previous years about boundaries, and limits, and mutual respect, and more. And, suddenly I just knew that it was time to try a new way of parenting this child, who I loved and was amazed with in SO many ways, but could not figure out how to parent without feeling insane.
Suddenly, when she was ten years old, I decided I could no longer care about whether or not she liked me as a mom, or thought pleasant thoughts of me. I had to decide that “hate me or not” I would hold the answers that I knew were right, and no matter of temper tantrums, manipulation, or bullying would get me to change my mind.
Finally, I could be the calm person I wanted to be while also not being pushed around to kingdom come.
If you don’t have a strong-willed child, you won’t truly understand the struggle. NONE of my other children have ever required this much intention and self-awareness to parent. It is NOT at all the same with compliant children who naturally desire to please their parents through obedience.
But, if you have a strong-willed child, you likely feel insane at times. The behaviors of manipulation, control, and emotional disruption that erupt from your child may leave you stunned and disillusioned with parenting.
Yet, on the flip side of these children typically comes an amazing array of gifts and talents, as well as intellect, that can just blow you away as a parent. They are a force to be reckoned with, and require a very firm parenting with absolute boundaries and hard lines.
It was around this time that I created my “Meanest Mom” shirt. I had to OWN the reality that I would likely be disliked for a while by my child. The bigger picture was far more important than whether or not she liked me for a time.
“World’s Meanest Mom” Shirt
…because sometimes nice mom is not what a child needs.
And, the bigger picture was that this child was one day going to be an adult, and it was my job to teach her that she could not always get her way, that she had to learn how to lovingly deal with disappointment, that she was not going to always be in control, and that she could survive the emotional discomfort of that reality.
It was my job to teach her how to respect others. My job to help her to navigate to ferocious emotions that raged within her. She was not naturally gifted with that ability within herself, so I had to teach her.
But, my natural tendencies, to simply roll over and be a push over and doormat would no longer serve me or her in this goal. For this reason I had to develop a backbone, and accept that there would be conflicts to resolve that would also not kill me.
I had to face my own emotional inadequacies, and face the fact that being a good parent was not all about making your kids happy all the time. My education was long, and hard, and brutal, but worth it.
Today, I stand in awe of this amazing young lady before my eyes. It took a few months of the hard line love for her to grasp that I was equally as strong as her, but in my own way, and that her previous tactics to control everything would no longer work.
Finally, in the tough lessons, she learned that relationships must go both ways with respect, and without her learning how to respect others, she would never get the life that she craved.
She learned that she is in control of her life, but only up to the point of her own self-control.
REALLY Related: How Vision Helped Transform a Difficult Child
And, I learned that I was also in control, but only so far as what I do and do not allow within myself. I could say “no” and then get all upset about the kids not responding the way I envisioned in my mind (which they generally never did), or I could be emotionally detached from their lack of pleasant responses and still be okay to work with them through their disappointment.
Truly, we all got an education…one that will surely pay for itself in dividends.
The Three MOST Beneficial Books for Raising a Strong-Willed Child
I tried many parenting books while trying to figure out what to do as a mom. I felt so confused and like SO many parenting books fell WAY short of what would truly help me.
These two books helped me to figure out what I was missing in my attempts. They were hard to learn, and it still took me many years to implement because of my own emotional confusion and need for growth, but they were still the most helpful books I found for my child’s disposition.
I realize today that firm line parenting is barely even kind of acceptable. The push for “gentle” parenting and such has left a lot of confusion in the parenting world for parents with children who have no respect for such a thing. And the belief that a “gentle” parent could not possibly do “mean” things is another twist of the lie that Satan has so effectively woven into the idea of parenting.
It’s truly a slippery slope until wisdom is brought into the picture.
These books are the real deal, full of sound wisdom to help you navigate some of the most difficult pieces of parenting. I don’t always agree with EVERYTHING in every book, but the combination of the various techniques to try and tips to consider are helpful in their totality. I encourage you to give them a try.
*The following images are affiliate links. Any purchases that you make from my recommendations will result in me receiving a small commission from the distributor.
The Strong-Willed Child
This book is a gem and has been around for decades, BUT you will have to navigate it with the wisdom of the mature.
Sadly, today we have a backlash of confusion when it comes to such concepts as spankings. Some parents have twisted a simple concept into a dark vortex of abuse. They are not the same. If you cannot remain calm in the midst of a spanking, then it definitely is not the proper tool for you.
Whether or not you choose to use spankings is your perogative. You can still benefit from the wisdom in this book when it comes to understanding the dynamic of the strong-willed child. I know when I first read it was the first time I felt like I was not crazy as a parent.
Boundaries with Children
I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Cloud’s books, which is why I’ve also shared his boundary book for marriage. This one is another blessing and a half.
Along with understanding the strong-willed child comes the GREAT importance of understanding boundaries and how they work.
Sadly, I suspect that MANY of us who are now grown adults still do not understand the basic concepts of emotional intelligence, including the arena of boundaries. This is growing ever more obvious as the next generations continue to grow with a sad lack of respect for anyone, including themselves.
Boundaries are CRITICAL for all relationships and matters of love, whether parenting or not.
Love and Logic Books
One thing I GREATLY appreciated about these books was the helpful explanations of various examples for natural consequences.
I REALLY needed the affirmation as a parent that it was okay if my child felt emotional disruption for a time because of their own poor choices.
Sadly, this idea is almost tantamount to child abuse anymore, which is ridiculous. There is GREAT benefit in teaching children that difficult emotions do not kill them, but rather learning how to navigate the difficult pieces of life is what prepares them for truly living as an adult.
And, it starts with us as parents truly believing the same. I HIGHLY recommend these books.
Mama, don’t give up.
Maybe you’re in the same boat that I was, feeling lost as a parent with a child who seems determined to make life miserable for you both. Or maybe you feel like you’re responsible for the rebellious disposition that seems to have come in the countenance of your child.
If so, you are not alone, even though you may very well feel like you are. I know, sadly, people who do not have a strong-willed child do NOT understand. Often, sadly, such people have a way of unintentionally acting like you are the cause of your child’s behavior, as though you taught them how to disobey and rebel.
You did not. Just the sheer fact that you are here reading this post shows that you are a parent who is trying to figure out how to love and teach and help your child. That is not the mark of a neglectful parent, but rather the mark of an imperfect parent, which we ALL are.
Keep trying. Don’t give up…even when it sucks and it’s hard and it feels impossible.
God is with you through this whole endeavor. All you can do is what YOU can do. Do your best. Keep learning. And, then leave the results up to Him.
Tracy Lynn says
What an amazing story and a wonderful read. Your brutal honesty is refreshing and I admire how well you handled your little girl. I too raised a strong-willed child and although outbursts were few and far between when they did hit I was caught completely unaware and totally unprepared. Your way of dealing with her when she was in trama mode is awesome and I only wish I had this information back then. It would have saved me at least a dozen sleepless nights.
Thank you for your comment! Honestly you never know how someone will respond unless they have had their own strong-willed child! And “trauma mode” is an EXCELLENT wording of precisely the twisted interpretation that often occurred within my daughter. I, too, wish I understood more entering into motherhood, but that’s not realistic, is it? We are all learning and works in progress, and motherhood is such an astoundingly perfect place to learn that fact. Thanks again! Blessings!