What I Learned from My Strong-Willed Child
Before I became a parent, I would look sideways at others in the grocery store with a strong-willed child, trying not to stare at children in the midst of a fit or talking back. With barely concealed disgust, I would think “why don’t you discipline your child?” The universe had a surprise for me — a strong-willed child of my own.
As someone who believes in discipline, manners, and not being embarrassed in public on a regular basis, my strong-willed child was a true challenge. Because I had always disciplined her and didn't consider myself to be an overbearing mom, I couldn’t understand why every errand trip would end in a tantrum just because she couldn’t have every item she demanded from the shelves. Clearly, I wasn’t being strict enough, so I stepped it up a notch.
I stopped giving extra chances. I became more stern. I disciplined immediately when she exhibited behaviors I didn’t like. I yelled. And truthfully, I hated it.
The more strict I became, the worse her behavior got. I was always getting those same sideways looks from others wreaking of judgement and receiving complimentary commentary on how I could improve my parenting to help mold her into the perfect little human. She was a healthy, inquisitive little girl, but I just wanted the loud demands and tantrums to end.
The problem was escalating and I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless and was exhausted from the battles. I did internet research, I sought out other moms, I watched TV shows that offered the perfect methods for parents with unruly kids. One day, I even went so far as to hold her down to try and brush her teeth. I mean, she had to brush her teeth, right? And all the opinionated people around me were saying, “if she doesn’t listen, make her.” She had clean teeth, but I felt awful.
As my son grew older and got to the point where he could play with her, I noticed that she would often become angry with him, yelling and pointing to get her way. One day, I saw her hold him down to try and make him color with her and I realized I was headed down a very dangerous path. I sat down and did some serious introspection to see how we had gotten to a place where neither of us was happy.
Although this may seem very simple to those born with the parenting gene, it took some real self exploration for me to discover the problem. She was treating others the way I was treating her. And she was miserable because I was miserable. I thought about childhood in terms of adulthood. If my boss was constantly following me, yelling at me all the time, would I be the model employee? Nope, and I was doing the same thing to my daughter.
So the next day, I tried something else. I didn’t yell and I didn’t point. When she would do something I didn’t like, I would sit her down and calmly explain why it wasn’t acceptable. I made it a point to praise her positive behavior and help her understand why we had the rules we did, how they benefit our family. Over a few weeks, I began to notice that the yelling wasn’t as frequent and her engagement with others was improved.
It hit me and it was so simple. If I was going to teach her to treat others with respect and to be an independent thinker, I had to actually do those things for her, rather than telling her to do them. If I wanted her to be able to learn from others in a positive way, then I had to show her how to do that. As you can imagine, I also have to send out positive vibes into the universe and offer mental apologies to parents for the judgemental looks given by my former self.
Thankfully, my daughter has helped me learn from my mistakes and for that I am a better person. Now, she can still be difficult and there is still no shortage of sideways glances directed my way (this is by no means a happily ever after perfect ending), but if I focus on making myself a better person, I see positive results. Thank you, my daughter, for your independence, your spark, and for teaching me to be better.
Ashley works in the mystical world of digital marketing. A true lover of the written word, she whiles away her time writing, editing, reading, and helping small businesses with their marketing needs. Believing herself to be a seeker of discomfort, she is always on the lookout for her next adventure. Check her out at contenthusiast.com.
Mandi's Two Cents: Oh, Ari! I know this little girl well. She went from the "NO" stage and not being very social to being my best little friend when I now visit. We color, play "post office", and always snack on something fun when I stop by to catch up with the very talented Ashley! I have no children of my own, and have to admit I've given the side eye a time or two to kids out and about, but I can only imagine how hard it is to be a mom. I lost mind when I was 18 and know I wasn't always the easiest child to deal with either. I often think back and regret some of my actions ... but I can only live in the present and become a better person for the future. I know that's what my mom would have wanted. Happy (belated) Mother's Day to all you moms of kids, pets, or play that role for others. Hope you know you are all loved and appreciated. And Ashley, you are a great mom ... and you have two great little versions of you that you are raising!