Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Will of a Child

I am by no means a perfect parent.  In fact, I'm far from a perfect parent.  I get too upset about trivial things. I yell too much. I don't spend enough one-on-one time with my kids.  I get irritable.  I get frustrated when John writes his 'M's upside down (and he is only in Kindergarten!).  Do I need to go on?  Because I can.   Despite all of my parenting flaws, my kids love me and, even better, they know I love them.

There is no doubt about the fact that I bore 3 strong-willed children.  And, if you are asking yourself how I can possibly know that my 1 year old has a strong will, then I can assure you that you do not have a strong-willed child yourself.  I became astoundingly aware of the strength of my first child's will about a month before he turned 2.  He daily took pleasure in showing me just how strong his will could be.  It was horrible.  It felt hopeless.  My husband and I felt like an inadequate parents.  There were days when I felt like all I had done was yell and spank.  I tried talking to our pediatrician at the time about the length and persistence of John's fits and I was told that the situation was not normal.  I again felt hopeless and horrible.  And yet, we emerged from the dark place.  He grew and I never gave in.  A fantastic, and utterly hard to accomplish combination.  However, I am entirely convinced that, had I not put in countless hours of standing my ground, we would still be in that dark place.  Even worse, the dark place would only be a foretaste of what it would be like in the coming years.

In my years of teaching and being around children from preschool to high school I have seen and heard a lot.  Before I was married and had kids I would always make mental notes like When I have kids I'll never let them act that way.  What I really should have told myself what When I have kids I will never let them think unacceptable behavior is acceptable.  Let's face it.  We can't always control when our kids have tantrums, or if Susie hit Sallie on the playground.  But we can control how we respond to such actions.  And, I hate to break it to you, but how you respond now will help shape what kind of adult your child becomes.  As saddened as I was at times viewing the behavior of children, I was horrified viewing the behavior of adults when I worked retail.  Working retail for any length of time will simply knock the wind right out of you, make you want to crawl in a dark hole, and pray that you never reproduce for fear of having your offspring turn out like some of the adults you encounter on a daily basis.  Thus started my infatuation with watching people interactions.  I'm a people watcher by nature.  I watched the kids I taught and the interactions between parent and child.  I watched the encounters between customers and employees.  And, today whenever I'm out, I watch those around me. I am astounded by what I see.

I've seen many parents of strong-willed children just give in to their child's wants and excuse their bad behavior.  Before I had kids I just kept thinking, take control!  You're the parent!  As if they could snap their fingers and make it all change.  Now that I have kids I still think, take control!  You're the parent!!  But now I know just how hard it is.  Parenting is hard.  It's hard with a compliant child, hard with multiples and infinitely harder with a strong-willed child.  What's even harder is that you have to tailor each disciplinary session or consequence to fit each child.  Just because something worked for one kid doesn't mean it will work for another.  I was a strong-willed child.  Hard to believe, huh?  My parents would draw a line and tell me not to cross it and I would go running over it like my sole purpose in life was to cross that darn line.  My brother on the other hand was pretty compliant.  Not so hard to believe.  He would generally do as he was told.  My mom could just look at my brother and say, "Mark" in a disappointed voice and that boy's world would crumble.  My mom could then look at me and say, "Katie" in the same disappointed voice and I would snort out, "What?"  I was pretty much a snot.

So what do you do with a kid like that?  How in the world do you bend their will without breaking their spirit?  How do you go to bed each night knowing you are doing the right thing?

The answer isn't as simple as the questions.  To other parents with strong-willed children, know that you aren't alone.  The fits your kids have starting at the young age of 2 that last 30-45 minutes or more are not unusual.  Your child is not strange, he is strong willed.  I think the biggest piece of advice I can give to other parents is to never give in.  Don't threaten anything you are not willing to follow through with.  And, while you can't control their outbursts, you need to make them aware that their actions are not acceptable.  It is a long, hard, challenging road.  But it is a road worth taking.  You may feel like you are in a constant battle with your child.   It won't always be that way.  However I must state that, whatever battle you've chosen, whether it is not letting your child wear his pajamas to school or making him eat the same thing for dinner as the rest of the family, it is important that you win.  Always.

I am thankful everyday that my parents chose to make their will stronger than my own.  Even if that wasn't their nature.  I am positive that I wouldn't be who I am today had they not set and enforced boundaries.  They did these things because they love me.  I am still very strong willed, but now I know how to work within limits.  I know that my needs, wants and desires are not greater or more pressing than those of anyone else.  I know that to comfort themselves my parents would often say, "She'll make a great adult."  And I hope they find that true.  This is often something I say about my boys.

Now that we have lived through the fits of one strong willed child and survived, the other two don't quite seem so devastating.  We aren't over the hump yet, but my husband and I are armed with love, compassion and very strong wills of our own.  It is important to us that we raise good, strong, loving, morally sound and God fearing men.  So every time we reach the battle field our feet are firmly planted and our ultimate goal is in mind.  So, catch me iin 20 years and see if I still say all of this was worth it.  I assure you my answer will be "YES!"

Here are a couple of resources I've found helpful.
Parenting the Strong-Willed Child and Keeping the Upper Hand by Bonnie Foshee
The New Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson
*** I feel I must add a little note to this book.  Most of the reviews of this book are raving.  Some are not.  Some people feel that this was an answer to prayers while others ding the book stating that Dobson advocates "that you tell the child, then smack the child. That's it, lather, rinse, repeat." which is not at all what the book is about.  I strongly urge you to to read the link I provided with the book title and scroll down to the Corporal Punishment & the Strong-Willed Child section for a better understanding.  My only negative comment on the book is that Dobson is a little bit of a fundamentalist.  But, if you ignore that, the rest of the information is great.***
Discipline for the Strong-Willed Child


Marcia said...

We were right - you are a great adult! (Actually, you were a great teenager, too.) Dad and I couldn't be prouder of you. Love, Mom

P.S. Mark was really not that compliant. He was more sensitive, not as loudly defiant, and didn't have battles on every front, but he was (is?) more quietly stubborn. He's a great adult, too! :)

Both of you have different strengths and weaknesses, just like your boys do. The parenting trick is to teach them to channel those strengths for good, using then to overcome the weaknesses, so that they grow up to be "great adults" too. I think you and Hans are doing a fine job.

Heather said...

Great post, Katie! I completely agree with you about finding that fine line between bending their will without breaking their spirit. This is a daily struggle for me, too. And it is comforting to know that I am not the only one. Parenting is the hardest job I have ever had but so worth it! We are raising amazing little people who will have lots to contribute to this world!

:) Heather

P.S. I personally think you turned out to be a great adult, too! ;)

Katie Fiene said...

Thank you Mom and Heather!