By Kelly Riibe of Family Footnote
Strong-willed children grow up to be determined parents, who in turn give birth to even stronger-willed kids. It is a cycle that describes my life pretty accurately. I was once a preschooler who demanded answers to a lot of questions, then an adolescent who talked way too much, until becoming a teenager who would get so irritated when things were not done to my liking. I also had the middle-child syndrome thing going for me in combination with being my parents’ only daughter.
My defense, especially for the teenage years, is that hormones drive us all a little crazy. I know I gave the flippant response, “Whatever,” to my folks way too often and also believed that I was the victim of many household injustices. Although when I reflect on my childhood, I really believe that I was just a kid who liked it when my voice was heard. It is something I remind myself about constantly in motherhood, especially when dealing with my own strong-willed children.
My middle child has a lot of “Kelly” in her. We are more alike in looks, and she is guilty of talking with her hands, just like her mama. We both like to take the lead and be the general organizer when it comes to daily activities. When I say, “Take the lead,” that is a nice way of saying my daughter insists and gets stubborn when her way is not the way of her preschool classmates. She does great academically and socially, but at both conferences this year the teacher’s one concern had to do with my daughter’s strong-mindedness. This character trait (or flaw, depending on the day) occasionally leads her to a steel wall of unwillingness regarding the ideas of others.
While my five-year-old daughter exasperates me at times, she is not even in the same hop-scotch league as her little brother. My son is so headstrong that it makes more and more sense every single day as to why he had to be delivered via c-section. Even in the womb he was strong-willed. The little guy just kept faking me out with contractions that never really went anywhere, until the day came for an emergency cesarean because HE was ready. Hello! I had been ready for two weeks, but there was no greasing those wheels to get him to come out one second before his actual due date.
While taking away a toy devastates my oldest daughter as a punishment, it usually earns only an indifferent shrug from my younger two kids. They can also stretch the limits of time-out and are very slow to apologize. A part of me admires their determination, and the other part of me wants to condemn them to the corner for all eternity.
Raising strong-willed children is a challenge, but one I readily accept because I do like the fact that my kids speak their minds and don’t want to be wallflowers. I need to continually chant this mantra in my head, specifically during the occasions when they are using their headstrong ways for good.
We were leaving the YMCA one morning, and just as we were walking out the door, my younger daughter insisted that she carry the diaper bag. The bag is too heavy for me at times, so the fact that my 33-pound little girl wanted to walk out to the parking lot with it was laughable. When I told her that I doubted she could handle it, I got a look of death and could see the stone cold resolve forming a cloak of determination around her. She heaved both handle straps around her shoulders and marched out of the gym with the bag on, back-pack style. It was pretty impressive.
Not to be outdone by his sister, my little guy ran ahead and had to be the one to open the exit door for us. As timing would have it, a charter bus of NAIA female basketball players pulled up, just as we were leaving. My son insisted on staying put and holding the door for all thirty-some players and coaches. We were late and I told him to come on, but he ignored me and stubbornly held the door open for everyone. It took six whole minutes before he became satisfied and gave up his pilgrimage as a doorstop.
Those are examples of times when raising a strong-minded child warms my heart and my conscience. Unfortunately, the not-so-great times can often outweigh the good times. Strong-willed kids can be handfuls.
My children are no exception, especially my two younger ones who talk back a lot and question the majority of requests. Their feelings get so hurt when you don’t agree with them that tantrums usually ensue. We used to call my daughter the noon whistle when she was two years old because that is how her wail sounded whenever she did not get her way at home. My son is not yet three and constantly tattles on my husband and me for being mean. We also hear, “You no fair” quite a bit.
Strong willed kids can be annoying and stressful. There are a lot of days I feel the need to go Kate Plus Eight on their tiny little butts because I already said no to playing outside in the rain and coloring with permanent markers (why do I even have any of these in my house, let alone in the coloring drawer?). It is during these moments that I feel my own headstrong ways taking over and refusing to listen. It is also during these times that if I could self-reflect for a bit, I would see myself in my kids. We all want our way, we all want to be the boss at times, and we definitely are all deserving of a time-out in certain situations.
So while I get nervous about my kids alienating friends or being disrespectful in their quest for being heard, I also understand that it is their personality. Maybe being strong-willed will make them better competitors or good negotiators. Or maybe it will all backfire and they will get a big helping of being grounded for life. Either way, I hope I am listening and stepping in at the right times and not squashing the strong-minded resolve that makes them mine.
This post was originally published on Family Footnote.
About the Author
Kelly J. Riibe has three kiddos, a husband, a dog, and a mildly curbed addiction to Diet Coke. Keeping busy for her involves staying home with her children and also finding work as a freelance writer. She has been published in Nebraska Magazine, Heels on a Farm, MockMom, and is the co-writer for the blog Family Footnote. Her twitter handles are: @familyfootnote and @KJRiibe.