What they don’t tell you about strong-willed kids.

We had three…and then we had four. Everyone said number three was going to be the hardest, but for whatever reason, it felt like smooth sailing. I think I started to think I knew what I was doing.

Then we had four. Everything about number four was different. She was a wild card: our firecracker, our flaming arrow. She let her will be known from the womb; every time the midwife gently flipped her head down, she flipped right back up. At five months, she started standing in her crib. At seven months she started climbing out. The husband lowered the crib to the lowest setting and built extra railings to make the sides higher, but still she conquered every barrier like a tiny ninja. I started googling “safe lids for cribs”, hoping CPS wouldn’t come knocking on my door. One night she climbed out and got in bed with her sister, and it turned out that was all she wanted.

She was sweet and snuggly and had the most amazing laugh. She also breathed fire and had a mean right claw when she didn’t get her way.

We had three, and then there was four.

I chased her across countless playgrounds while she shrieked like a feral cat. I sat holding her with all my strength while she fought and screamed and tears streamed down my face…more times than I can remember.

What was I doing wrong? When would this end?

I’d heard of strong-willed children, but I didn’t have one until I did.

I didn’t know how hard it would be to have a strong-willed child. I didn’t know that it would take five times the energy to match her grit and passion. I didn’t know that all the things I thought I “knew” wouldn’t work. I didn’t know how humbling it would be to have my parenting fall short in public again, and again, and again. I didn’t know the embarrassment I would feel when kids and moms stared open-mouthed as I managed a queen-sized tantrum. I didn’t know how badly I’d want to defend myself.

I didn’t know how much it would mean to me when a mom called to me as she was walking by, “Way to go mama, you’re amazing.” I didn’t know how it would heal my heart to have a few moms stop what they were doing and give me a standing ovation as I stood my ground with my tiny dictator.

Most of all, I didn’t know how much I would adore her and her iron will, because she wasn’t “her” without it. I didn’t know how her passion would be both frightening and awe-inspiring.

I was honored to be her mom, even when I was sitting on a park bench holding her while she screamed at me with tears streaming down my face. Even then, even at both of our worsts, there was nowhere in the whole world I’d rather have been. I had so much self-doubt it was hard to breathe, but we made it. I was horrified and embarrassed, but I cared nothing about the opinions of strangers compared to the love I felt for her, even in that moment.

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I’d happily give up my street cred as a “good mom” a billion times over for the honor of being the one who calls this little tigress mine.

I don’t think her fire was on accident. In fact, I know it wasn’t. I know that she was built and fashioned with fierceness for a reason. She is a little person with a huge spirit, and I cannot wait to see what she does. I am absolutely honored to be the one entrusted with such a treasure.

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She is a spitfire, but she’s mine; and damn I’m proud of her. I’m proud of every single bit of her.

The biggest thing I didn’t know about raising a strong-willed child was how much I’d love it.

***

Watch out world, she’s coming for you.

*Before you comment on your awesome parenting techniques, let me just tell you, if you did something twice or even twenty times and *wah-bamm* the problem was solved…you *do not* have a strong-willed kid, so please save me your well-meaning and sometimes judgmental advice. You do not know, until you know. I had three, and I didn’t know until I had four.*

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11 thoughts on “What they don’t tell you about strong-willed kids.

  1. Cecilia

    Hello! I enjoy reading your blogs and I can relate on many levels. However, I am not a new mother. Well, I am a mother, but I am also a grandmother. I have been caring for my grandson since day 1 (thereafter along with my grand daughter three years later) and as old as I am, I thought that I “knew it all” having raised 2 kids that turned out to be amazing adults! I had a HUGE eye opener on starting over again taking care of my grandchildren. My grandson is very strong willed and I have chosen to call him VERY passionate with all of his feelings. Every day is most certainly an adventure, but at the end of the day, as you, I am so very proud to call him my grandson!

  2. Jess

    I whole-heartedly agree with everything you have said here!

    My second-born is a strong willed child. He has a fire in his belly that absolutely cannot be extinguished- on one occasion I vividly recall sitting in the bedroom with my two other children cuddling and singing to them to calm their fear over the voracious screaming from my firecracker, that was audible through two closed doors, while my husband calmly sat blocking the doorway of his bedroom so he couldn’t get back in the shower (which had been turned off over an hour earlier, with plenty of warning and ‘shall I turn the tap off or do you want to?’ choices and feeling affirmation at his disappointment that shower time was over etc). I remember thinking that it felt like a scene from some sort of horror movie where something awful is taking place in the house and a mother/older sibling is trying to distract and calm some terrified children while they hide from the atrocities!

    I’m only 6 years into parenting that particular child, but the only thing I’ve come to realise ‘works’ is acceptance of the challenge. JessParenting a strong-willed child is not a linear progression towards achieving a particular outcome (like learning to tie a shoelace; with each try you get better) like it often is with other children. It’s not a case of ‘after reminding him x number of times he finally understands’. It’s about accepting the reality that there will be something he desires with all of himself but cannot have/do EVERYDAY (often more) and that there will be battles. Many many battles. Often the same ones on repeat. It is exhausting on so many levels, but as you say, worth every second.

    And whilst I could often do without the physical and emotional exhaustion that he causes me, I absolutely adore every ounce of his being and love him for exactly who he is, belly-fire and all!

  3. Nienke

    Totally relatable! I know al lot of people think my girl acts the way show does because I’m not strict enough or not consequent enough but this is who she is and we’ve found our way and I love her.

  4. Beth Gillespie

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I’ve often sat and wondered how I developed such a fierce and protective love of this child. He is the child that led us to homeschool – he not only had no problem saying no to me, but also to every other adult. He’s gifted, so not only is he defiant but thinks he is completely right and often is. He was being crushed in school and I could see his spirit dwindling. I pulled him out and haven’t looked back.

    The unrelentingness is exhausting. The embarrassment and shame is overwhelming at times. And it’s lonely because many friends of compliant children just think it’s my terrible parenting and if I would only read ‘this book’ or try ‘this method’ everything would fall into place.

    But like you said it’s also such an honour to be his mom. I genuinly wouldn’t trade it for 20 easy kids!

  5. Kelly Porreca

    My third and final child, a little girl, is as you have described in your post. And never in 3 trillion years, would I ever think that I could give you that life changing, worlds greatest mom advice. Each day, each minute brings a new challenge with this one. I’m never over the hump, or even close to the light at the end of the tunnel. Quite frankly, I’m not so sure I ever will be. But as you do so eloquently stated “she wasn’t “her” without her iron will. She is not who she is without the fire that lies beneath her wings. And that is why she is who she is. No one can know a strong willed kid on paper. You live her (in my case) You cry her. You bleed her. You lose your mind over her. But you love her harder than you’ve ever loved anything in your entire life. And that is a love I am honored to know. I also know she needs me and at times I am all she has. That in itself is why being her mom is one of the greatest joys I will ever know. Thank you for your post.

  6. Karla

    This is my 3rd. I thought she was going through a phase, but it just never ended. I feel like she brings the worst out of me and nothing “works.” I have nothing encouraging to say… just that kids are hard.

  7. christiansredballoon

    Yes! Love this! My firstborn was my strong willed child. I always said “Your persistence is driving me crazy right now but one day it is going to get you so far!!” Unfortunately he passed away from a freak accident at six. It has left me with so much guilt. There were times when I would think why was I given this task of raising him? This is just too hard for me. They would pass and my heart would burst with love and pride. Of course I loved him more than anything. Now I am working through the guilt I have over those times. The most amazing thing though is that his will and energy is just as strong from heaven. It’s beautiful. Other people actually comment on it too. Thank you for sharing this!

  8. Sam

    Well done Mama! I too am the mother of 4 but my 3ʳᵈ is our little firecracker and although she’s almost 12 and has calmed down a lot as she’s come to be a bit more able to have somewhat rational conversations, I know that we have many crazy teenage moments to come – Heaven help me – I see so much of me in her (Oi!).
    You ARE doing a great job!! Just keep on loving her and guiding her passion for life!

  9. thecommutary

    Sounds like we need to set up a play date with my firecracker. I’ve chased her on every street corner of DC and sought out ac in every gift shop in disneyworld with her strapped into her stroller screaming and sending me to jail. We’re working on finding common ground now that she’s turning five and has the words to explain her inane actions. But I know this is forever.

  10. Monica Dawson

    I LOVE you mama! For always making me feel 100% normal after a balls-up of a morning, day, evening, week, month, year…need I go on…?

    Two strong-willed, fiery, feral children here, and their mama was raised compliant to the point of not having a childhood. My husband and I look at eachother many, MANY evenings after an amazing day of quality time, spoils and fun, fun, fun that most children will never have the privilege of experiencing (Did I mention we are farmers in Africa, close to town AND the sea?), and wonder WHAT we are doing SO wrong as both kids seem to mutate into mini gremlins before our startled eyes at the smallest: NO, home time/bath time/sleep time/action time now.

    They brings out the VERY worst of me and also my VERY best (every now and then). My failings stare back at me as my perfection, and need for compliance dies over AND over again. A drowning sailor, clinging to the life raft my children seem to ALWAYS wanna steer, the shore is nowhere near in site.

    But, like you, when the pirates are sleeping and when I finally fall into an exhausted, mindless, heap with ANY alcoholic beverage in hand, I would not give up or exchange them for the world!

    Thank you for the beauty of real community (“,)

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