I have a few children that might be considered “difficult,” or “strong-willed,” but I like to think of them as “spirited,” because I am absolutely convinced that their spunk was ingrained into their spirits when they were born onto this good earth. It may be genetic, but I am pretty sure that I was the easiest child to ever walk this planet; just ask my mom. I cannot confirm nor deny whether she once told me that I am getting exactly what I deserve for all of the spunk that I had as a child. But If she did say those things, I am pretty sure she was remembering my sister and not me. Any potential genetic link must have come from my husband.
Wherever that trait came from, however, I am fairly certain that an easy-going child would simply not fit into our family. Some of my kids are more laid back than others, but all of them are full of determination. Sometimes I feel like they are determined only to test my patience and ability to perform under pressure, and they are pretty darn good at doing that on occasion. And when I say “on occasion,” what I really mean is, “pretty much every day.” I love them, but they give me a run for my money as if I were getting paid for dealing with their antics.
This motherhood job is harder than it seems. I should be earning six figures; maybe more. I will not turn down any donations if you feel so inclined.
In all seriousness, raising a strong-willed child…or five of them…can be crazy hard. Since we brought 16-year-old Jordan home as a brand new baby, and he proceeded to scream himself hoarse on that first night outside of the hospital nursery, I knew that my dreams of easy children had been crushed. The Lord had other plans.
That baby tested…and tried…and exhausted every ounce of tolerance that I had, and then some. Andrew joined our family just 19 months later, and three more kids came along before Jordan turned 10. Through the exhaustion and frustration, I learned a few things. In hopes of saving you some of the heartache that I experienced as a young mom with a house full of spirited kids, here are a few words of wisdom from one who understands:
1. YOU ARE NOT ALONE
I felt very much alone when my kids were young and difficult. It seemed as if I was the only one who could not seem to teach my little darlings to be civil. I didn’t want anybody to know about the times when Jordan would completely lose it when he didn’t get his way, long after the terrible twos, because nobody else seemed to have that problem. At least not that I saw, and I think that is the key.
Many people don’t talk about their struggles with their children for fear that they will be judged wrongfully by people who don’t understand. However, I can tell you that this post I wrote on the blessings of strong-willed children has been read and shared more times than I can count. It has had hundreds of thousands of views on my site alone and has been republished on several other sites, including the Huffington Post, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Globe, Power of Moms, and Family Share. That tells me that there are many people who can relate to the challenges of strong-willed children, even if they don’t broadcast their struggles to the world. You are in good company.
2. THEIR STRONG WILL IS NOT YOUR FAULT
After I had kids, I chose to stay at home with them, essentially making motherhood my career. When my kids didn’t act like I thought they should, I felt like I was failing motherhood. I was convinced that some of them would end up in prison because of their poor impulse control and tendency to lose it at a moment’s notice, and it would be all my fault.
Maybe I wasn’t patient enough, but my patience was tested to the very extreme multiple times a day, and I did my best to hold it together.
Maybe I wasn’t giving them enough positive attention because some of them were in trouble every time I turned around.
Maybe I needed to learn new techniques, read more books, try more sticker charts, and then everything would be smooth sailing.
That is not how it worked for me. Instead, I just felt like a failure most of the time because nothing that I tried worked very well for very long. I just wanted my kids to be easy and agreeable, but they were not, and I didn’t know how to teach them to be that way.
I have since accepted that they were born with their temperaments, and it is my job to teach them how to use those for good, not to change them. There is also this thing called agency that allows each person to choose for themselves. As much as I sometimes want to, I cannot “make” them do anything.
Likewise, it is not my fault when they have a meltdown. Having children who make bad choices does NOT make me…or you…a bad parent. We all make mistakes.
Try your best – your very best – to encourage them to choose well, then ditch the guilt when they don’t always oblige. Hopefully, they will get it…someday. Don’t give up hope, but don’t let their choices or their stubbornness determine how you feel about your worth as a parent, either.
3. WE SHOULD STOP JUDGING EACH OTHER
People are too quick to judge. Without having lived in my house, you have no idea how hard I am trying to teach my kids, even if their behavior does not always reflect that teaching. It takes years to complete such education, so don’t jump to conclusions when you see me in the store, on an airplane, or at the playground.
4. THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
Jordan, who spit in my face when I put him in time out, threw books at me in fits of rage when he did not get his way, yelled horrible things, threatened to run away at age 5 because he was in trouble (again), and pushed every button that I had, including some that I didn’t know were there, is now 16 and doing great things with his life.
He is self-motivated, self-disciplined, and thinks of others before himself. As a sophomore, he is at the top of his class while taking 5 AP classes at once. He is an accomplished pianist who consistently practices and pushes himself to do better, without any prodding from me, and is an Eagle Scout.
I do not tell you this to brag. I tell you this to give you hope because there were times when I had little hope that he would have a bright future. He is not perfect by any stretch, and I know that we are not out of the woods yet, but I don’t lose sleep over him anymore.
It takes time…years…so patience is key.
5. THE QUALITIES THAT MAKE STRONG WILLED CHILDREN SO HARD TO PARENT ARE THE SAME QUALITIES THAT WILL MAKE THEM INTO STRONG LEADERS AS THEY GROW
This one is important. If you have one of these little ones, you know the qualities of which I speak. You know that they will not be swayed when they make up their minds, no matter what you may say or do to reason with them. There is no reasoning. In their minds, their way is the only way.
When they are young, they don’t understand what is best for them, but they also DO NOT want you to tell them that they are wrong, and are not afraid to let you know that with all manner of uncivilized wailing, screaming, hitting, kicking, throwing things. You know what I am talking about. You are probably living through it, just like I once did.
But fast forward a few years, and my once impossible Jordan is now a natural leader who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes. As much as I could not convince him when he was small to do something that he didn’t want to do without a HUGE fight, others cannot convince him now to do things that he does not agree with, and that is a fantastic trait, one that I am SO glad he has.
I am not saying that your resolute child will never make mistakes or follow the crowd down the wrong path. Those things may happen, and your experience may be different from what mine has been. I am saying, however, that great leaders often exhibit the same qualities as headstrong children, only in a more mature way.
As you keep these five things in mind, above all, remember not to give up on them. Their frustrating persistence that makes you want to scream right now will hopefully serve them well someday; hopefully, someday soon. Until then, hang in there and remember that you are laying the foundation for a lifetime of accomplishment, even if it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere.
I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that you are doing better than you think.