It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… To borrow from the illustrious Charles Dickens, the three years my husband and I spent in the throes of the terrible two’s, three’s, and fours with our strong-willed “Middlest One” were just that. One moment, life was blissful and fun as we watched this magical fairy-child grow before our eyes. The next moment tumultuous and heart-wrenching as she defied every rule or request set before her in a highly emotional rant that would set the entire house on edge until it blew over.
Actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy recently said of her then 5-year-old strong-willed daughter,
“Georgie is a force of nature. She will either rule the world or destroy it. There will be no grey areas.”
I laughed out loud when I heard this and nodded my head in solidarity, as I felt like McCarthy had perfectly described my own daughter.
I dare say we are in a really good place with Middlest right now. (Thank you, Jesus!) Yes, we still have difficult days. But they are fewer and farther between. Is my daughter growing and maturing and learning how to handle her emotions better — and the realization that she doesn’t get to rule the world yet? Definitely! We have seen huge strides in the way she handles stuff now, and it took a lot of consistency and patience to get there. I also think that what my husband and I have learned from her, and from the Lord about her, has also helped contribute to a more peaceful home.
So, today, I was thinking you, parent of a force of nature/future world ruler…
You may be confused, discouraged, or disheartened, but I want to encourage you with these 10 things I have learned from my strong-willed child. I hope they help you to weather the proverbial storm with a little extra hope and courage to face another day.
**This list became really long (surprise), so for the sake of time, I will split this post into two parts:
1. I AM SUPPOSED TO BE MY CHILD’S MOTHER. NO ONE ELSE BUT ME. I’ll be honest, the fact that one of my three children turned out super strong-willed totally threw me for a loop. It’s not something I was expecting. When we were children, my husband and I would both be categorized as “compliant” by the parenting experts. But we each had a sister who was strong willed, so we were well-acquainted with that personality type. Somehow you think your kids are going to turn out like you. And when they don’t, you can start to question if you have what it takes to parent this child the way he or she needs. You may even fear that they will hate you forever or wind up leading a biker gang.
“You may even fear that they will hate you forever or wind up leading a biker gang.”
I’ve noticed that people respond to my little force of nature in three distinct ways: A.) They try to control her, and when they realize they can’t control her — because trying to control makes her want to defy them more — they give up or continually butt heads with her. B.) They notice right away that she’s a force of nature and it scares them, so they avoid poking the bear at all costs. C.) They notice right away that she’s a force of nature. And they love her for it. They know it means God is going to grow and shape her and use her for special purpose someday. And they want to show her love and pour into her life.
The day I made this realization about the way people handle Middlest One led to another crucial realization:
I’m her mother, and no one is going to love her and understand her — and not shy away from her and her fiery personality — like I will. God chose me to consistently be the person who falls in category “C” above.
This is how I have reframed my thinking: Wow, I get to be her mom! God entrusted me, of all people, with the task of helping to raise this awesome little person!
I’m serious. This change in perspective has been huge.
2. GOD HAS A GREAT PLAN FOR MY CHILD. To me, this point encompasses hope. One of my favorite Bible verses when I first became a Christian was Jeremiah 29:11, a Scripture my older sister wrote in a birthday card to me:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This verse came to mind during one of the stormy times with my little girl. God has plans to give my daughter a hope and a future. You can pray this for your own son or daughter. All the qualities that you may find frustrating about your child — his or her stubborn, strong, or contrary nature — are all qualities God can use for His purposes and His glory. These are qualities that can be shaped into leadership, innovation, justice, compassion, and a fierce defense for the vulnerable and helpless.
3. SHAPE—DON’T ATTEMPT TO CHANGE THEM. Focus on your child’s unique qualities and do the important work of teaching, leading, and guiding them. In a world filled with followers, thank GOD your child thinks differently! This change in our own mindset will help us to embrace the gift that our child is.
In a world filled with followers, thank GOD your child thinks differently!
At his or her core, your child is who he or she is. Trying to make my Middlest One less of a leader would be like me trying to make my son less of a jokester and a lover of learning. Trying to lessen my Middlest One’s strength is like me trying to make my Littlest One less of a gentle spirit and a snuggler.
Does that mean you allow your strong-willed child to mow you over or treat others in an unkind, rude, or bossy manner? Absolutely not! But you can help mold and shape their character through little opportunities and teachable moments each and every day. Trust that your child’s unique qualities and personality will serve him or her and the community well someday.
There are lots of great books to help you through this time. I would recommend You Can’t Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded, written by an author who was a strong-willed child herself when she was young. Now that’s someone I want to learn from!
4. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. There were some dark days in the Merrill household where the craziest, meanest things would shoot out of the mouth of our darling little force of nature. I wrote about it here.
I’m a writer, so naturally I have always felt that words have meaning and importance — and take them to heart. However, with my daughter, I think God has shown me that I was once a teenager who fired off mean words to my mother — or a full grown woman who has said mean things to her own husband! My love for them and need for them in my life hadn’t changed, but I was angry and could not control my emotions.
Knowing that allows me not to take personally what my own daughter says in anger.
And not taking it personally helps me to stay calm and clear headed when trying to figure out what to do next. Which brings me to my next point…
5. STAY CALM IN THE STORM—IT’LL BLOW OVER SOON. It’s so much easier said than done, but I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to stay calm at all times with your child. If this is something you struggle with, there are many great parenting tips and techniques to help you. Here’s one great post, and here’s another.
Remember: you are human. It takes practice, patience, and, for me as a Christian, help from the good Lord! I pray constantly and ask Him to give me patience, wisdom, and grace — and He knows I am far from perfect at this! With our strong-willed daughter’s sudden storms, we often do not know when they’re coming or what triggered them until it’s too late — although we’re starting to be able to predict. Kind of like a meteorologist… But they can be wrong sometimes, too.
The weather always keeps us on our toes!
Just as it’s best storm or a roller coaster or a labor contraction. If you stay calm, it always, always blows over. Sometimes it lasts 5 minutes. Sometimes 15. Sometimes an entire hour, and you think you just might lose your mind. But it will be over. Once your child is calm, you will hug and talk it out, and all will be well until the next storm or contraction comes. It’s all good!
I don’t know if those analogies are helpful or terrifying, LOL! But the point is, the more you resist or get upset, the worst it will be.
Final encouragement for today:
If you are consistent and love your child through this time with discipline and appropriate boundaries for your family, the day will come when those storms are fewer and farther between. You will look back and think, Wow, how did I get through that? And you’ll be so thankful that all your hard work and love has finally paid off!
*** Okay, friends, there’s the first five of the 10 Things My Strong-Willed Child is Teaching Me. Let me know in the comments section below if you find these helpful or what is working for you and your family! Click here for Part 2.