The Most Valuable Lesson I Learned From My Strong-Willed Child
*I just wanted to give a little prelude to this post. I wrote this post several weeks ago and I have read through it 100 times and I have just now mustered up the courage to share it with you all today. It is awfully hard to share a personal story, especially one that highlights my own weaknesses. If it helps even one mother of a strong-willed child it will have been worth it.
I’ve got 5 kids! Yeah that’s a lot these days considering the average family has 2 kids. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have learned a lot from my little ones and I have quickly realized that they aren’t just here to learn from me. It is quite possible that I am the one learning the most from these relationships.
Let me start out by telling you a little story….I grew up fighting with my siblings. I am the second oldest of a family of 5. I have 3 sisters and 1 brother. We argued a lot growing up! And we all had really loud voices so our house often sounded like a scene from a scary movie. Don’t get me wrong, we actually really loved each other, we always made up and were best friends like 20 minutes after an argument. In a way it was our best form of communicating and showing each other we cared about each other…I know, that sounds weird.
So why am I telling you this? Well it actually has a lot to do with how I later communicated with my spouse and then my children. You see when Tyler and I were first married I was a fighter (not physically) verbally. If we didn’t agree about something I wanted to hash it out by having a good argument, it’s really the best way I knew how to communicate with the ones I loved. And when Tyler wouldn’t fight back I thought he didn’t care! Needless to say it was the worst way to communicate with a new spouse. Tyler was not interested in arguing and probably thought I was a wee bit crazy at times! Honestly if he hadn’t been so patient, kind, and understanding I don’t think we would have just celebrated our 10 year anniversary. But luckily, I quickly realized that the way I dealt with frustration was getting us nowhere fast. I learned a lot our first year of marriage and when children entered the picture I learned even more.
My children are awesome kids but even awesome kids can be crazy sometimes! Ok my kids aren’t crazy but sometimes they go through phases that make my head spin! When my son Gavin was born (he is my second) we were thrilled. We just graduated college and moved to a new city and my husband started his first real job. I was a stay at home mom and I loved it. Little did I know I was in for a rude awakening! As Gavin grew he became a very strong-willed child. I didn’t know what that meant at the time or that it even existed. Gavin does things on his own terms not mine. But I didn’t understand that right away. When he was about 4 years old I couldn’t quite grasp why he didn’t respond to me the way my daughter Sam had at this age. She listened, did what I asked and rarely ever got into trouble. I had no idea kids could be so different or so difficult. I was about to learn that with different kids I would have to have different strategies for disciplining, communicating and understanding.
At this stage Gavin was really difficult to deal with. If he didn’t want to do something he would tell me ‘no’, refuse to go to time out, and argue about everything. He just didn’t understand ‘why’ we clean up after ourselves or ‘why’ we don’t throw balls in the house. Things just didn’t click, and the whole ‘because I said so’ was not going to fly with him because that didn’t make sense either. After a couple of really rough days with Gavin I was at the end of my rope, he was constantly in time out, in his room, and I started yelling. You know, the mean mommy yelling that you feel bad about later. I was overwhelmed and one day I even spanked him in anger and put him in his room. I then went in my room and cried as he proceeded to scream at the top of his lungs and kick his door repeatedly. I didn’t understand. How did it get this bad? Why couldn’t I control my temper? Why wouldn’t he just obey me?
The next day when things got crazy again Gavin got angry and the first thing he did when he got mad was start yelling and then he hit me. Up until now he had never hit me before. But I had never spanked him before the previous day meltdown either. I’ll admit my feelings were hurt when he hit me. That’s what he must have felt like when I had spanked him the day before. I put him in his room and went to my room and cried….again….I pleaded with God to help me understand, I felt so helpless! Then it hit me, like the clouds cleared and I could see things clearly. I realized I had taught Gavin how to act when he was mad, I had shown him the previous day that when we are mad we yell, hit, and get angry. When I pictured him getting angry, I saw myself. And it was an ugly site. I couldn’t believe that I had taught him to act this way, I felt so guilty.
My mind started spinning. How could I undo what I had just done? Of course we both said sorry to each other later but the next day when Gavin got angry again he started yelling, kicking and trying to bite me. Yikes things were getting worse. Luckily my mother-in-law had sent me a book about strong-willed children and when it came in the mail that day I skimmed through it cover to cover. It described Gavin to a ‘T’. That’s when I learned he was strong-willed and there were different methods to teaching him and for helping him understand and in order for me to help him I had to change too.
That day was different, I had to control my temper and not get angry even when he was trying to yell, hit or kick me. I talked with a stern voice, got on his level but never yelled. And most importantly I was following through on my word. Strong-willed kids do much better with consistency, when they know what to expect and why they need to do certain things. It took several weeks to undo the damage but soon we got into a groove. I talked to him about the way we should act when we feel angry and slowly we both began to communicate better. It was tough but eventually he grew and learned and so did I. I’m happy to say that those really difficult days are behind us. Now if Gavin gets mad or refuses to listen I don’t get all worked up, I just count to 3, if he can’t listen the item he’s crying about gets taken away, or I take a $1 out of his wallet or the Wii goes in time out. These are a few of his favorite things and when I put them in time out it upsets him but since I can’t physically make him sit in time out or go to his room (especially when I was pregnant) this is the best punishment for him. And rarely do I ever get to 3 because he doesn’t want the consequence, and he knows I will follow through. If I do put something in time out he later has the opportunity to earn it back.
So the whole point to all this…well, when I think back to those difficult challenging moments of parenting my son, I am reminded of why he’s my son. I get an overwhelming feeling that my children are here to teach me… to help me grow, learn, and understand better. This applies to each of us! I know our children are here to help us learn things like patience, kindness, unconditional love, compassion, and to be more Christ-like. They’re here to strengthen us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They’re here to keep us on our toes, to make us better chefs, better examples, better teachers, to test us, push us and make us think. They teach us to communicate better and help us learn and grow. They melt our hearts and make us cry (happy and sad tears.) They make us worry and cause us to feel happiness, sadness, joy, pain, and sorrow. We truly get a glimpse of what Heavenly Father must feel as he watches us make good and bad choices. Our children change us, we become stronger, we grow, and we are blessed! You see there is no magical age that once we reach it our growth, knowledge, or development stops. Quite the contrary. We are here for a reason. We are here to become better, to change and progress, and our kids are here to help us do just that! Sometimes we may fail or have set backs but that doesn’t mean all is lost. We pick ourselves up, we make changes, we adapt and we keep moving forward.
I’m not saying I’m the best mom, but I do think I am the best mom for my kids and they are the best kids for me! I’ve learned I’m not a perfect parent and that’s okay. With each new child and each new phase, I learn something new. I am constantly growing, changing and becoming something better. It really is our choice whether we want to take these opportunities to grow or not… I could have easily become the angry mean mom that my kids feared, but I didn’t. I’ve actually learned more about myself than I ever could have if it weren’t for my son. I tell people all the time, I think Gavin was sent here to teach me, to help me grow, to help me become better, to help me become the best mom possible to my children and for that I am eternally grateful.
Now I’m constantly asking myself: “What can YOU learn from your child today?” And I encourage you to do the same. And if you are reading this with a heavy heart, if you’ve reached your braking point with your strong-willed child, please know that it doesn’t have to be that way forever. Don’t give up! Find your strength, educate yourself, learn what your child needs from you and be willing to change, to become better. You can do this, you are amazing, and you too can reach your divine potential.
(This post contains affiliate links)
I’ve had people ask which book my mother-in-law gave me so I thought I would add it to the post. You can find the original addition on amazon for kindle or they have a new revised addition in paperback as well.
This post was featured on ‘Mama Moments Mondays!’
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Great post Taya! i’m glad you shared it. I’m working with some pretty strong willed children at school right now and they can be so mentally exhausting. I try to remind myself not to try to battle it out with them because they can always win. I’ll try to find ways to explain the reasoning my requests like you did with Gavin. Maybe that would help!
Thanks Shannon, It’s not always easy to talk about our weaknesses but I have really learned a lot from Gavin, he’s made me a better person. You probably meet a lot of kids with similar characteristics. You of all people probably know that communication is different with each individual child. Miss you. Taya
You’re a great mom, Taya! I’ve always admired you.
I didn’t realize how much Gavin and Zeke are alike. There are so many days when I’m at my wits end with his indepent spirit. What book did you read?
Candice, I know what you mean…I think I mistake Gavin’s stubbornness as negativity sometimes when really he is just trying to figure things out. I added the book to the end of the post! Miss you girly! Taya
Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom
What a great post and a wonderful reminder.
I parent my girls slightly different because they have very different needs and personalities. It took a while for me to change and adjust, but everyone was happier after I did.
I’m glad you found what worked for you and your son. It’s lovely that you shared your experiences here too – I’m certain it will help and inspire other moms too.
Thanks for sharing and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop.
Wishing you a lovely week.
My second child is strong willed as well. Many days have been filled with tears and frustration dealing with this one. I can completely relate! Thank you for being so real.
Visiting from Mama Moments Monday!