The title of this post was my facebook status one day last week. "Parenting a strong-willed child is a lonely place." I was surprised at some of the responses, not only on fb but over email, text and in person. Many wonderful friends reached out to me with words of encouragement. There was a lot of "me too!" and "I hear you!" and "You read my mind!" from friends I knew to be in the same place and some that surprised me with their understanding.
Others had no idea what I was talking about. How could someone with such a strong support network be lonely? How could someone with such a bright, funny, loving six-year old not appreciate what she has?
How about you? Do you understand the loneliness of parenting a strong-willed child?
Most days it feels like my son is always in trouble. There is rarely (never?) a day that goes by where he doesn't sit in time-out multiple times and lose multiple privileges. Many days we clash and struggle and argue and fight all day long.
Many times when we leave an event, activity or play date it is because he is being disciplined.
I spend great parts of every day locked in confrontation with my son.
I usually feel like no one understands what I'm going through, because all the other kids are playing nicely and calmly and not getting in trouble.
Often I am given advice on what do do with my son. The advice-givers are well meaning. They care about me and my kid but the content of their advice tells me that they believe I do not discipline him.
I discipline my son all day, every day. For the same things. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...
My son is six. He is delightful. I love him with all my heart. He is the biggest challenge I have ever faced.
The personality of every strong-willed child is different. This is my story. (I just heard the dum-dum sound of Law and Order as I typed that last sentence.)
My son is single-minded in his focus. He tunes his attention to one thing and nothing can turn him away until he has reached his goal. This quality may serve him well as an adult but as an immature six year old boy it is maddening.
When he is focused on "getting" everyone with his squirt gun he doesn't hear the shouts of STOP from the adults that don't want to get wet and are now frustrated that he "refuses" to cut it out. When he is focused on getting to the top of the slide he doesn't see the two year old in his way that falls to the ground as he reaches his goal.
This is especially frustrating when I'm having a conversation with him (or scolding him). Mid-way through my eloquent speech (tirade?) I can see in his eyes that he's on another planet. I begin to say things like, "Look in my eyes." And, "What did I just say?" When I pause for him to answer he asks a question about something I said three minutes ago (or something he can see in another part of the room). He latches on to one thought and runs with it, shutting everything else out.
I have spent years not understanding this. It is difficult to explain, but when I'm paying attention I can see it happening but when I'm not (most of the time) it looks like defiance. I said to stop. He didn't stop, therefore he is disobeying me and there must be consequences. I know that the best way to give him instructions is to walk over to him, put my hand on his shoulder, make very sure I have his attention and then proceed. When I do this, it helps. When I shout from the my comfortable chair in the shade on the deck it never works, he ends up in trouble and I end up mad.
This leads right into my next observation. My strong-willed son doesn't do well when he thinks he doesn't have a choice. This clashes with my straight forward We-Need-To-Get-This-Done-Now personality. I say, "Stop!!" When I should say, "Did you know that most grownups don't like to get squirt with water guns?" I say, "It's bedtime, go get your pajamas on." When I should say, "It's 7:00, what would you like to do first to get ready for bed?"
My son is rarely deterred by pain, punishment, the loss of special things, shouting, disappointment or any other form of discipline I have been able to dream up. Spankings make him angry. He has the amazing ability to decide that he doesn't care about something he used to love. He can laugh in my face when I yell, or yell right back. Falling nine feet out of a tree didn't deter him from climbing trees (or doing other dangerous things). He isn't embarrassed by straight faces on his behavior chart at school and doesn't really care when he doesn't get a smile. The only thing that motivates him is when he decides that something is important.
He is amazingly resilient. While he may freak out and cry when I say we have to leave an event because he's not behaving, as soon as we get to the car he's got a smile on his face and is looking ahead to the next activity. He has a great imagination and can occupy himself with very little, so even taking away everything and sitting him in the corner isn't all that bad of a deal. He loves to read and doesn't care if he gets zero screen time in a day (or all week).
It is exhausting to keep one step ahead of my child.
I absolutely see how his personality traits and characteristics are wonderful. He is going to make a fantastic adult. The other day I said to a friend, "That compliant child is going to work for my strong-willed son one day!"
But right now? Right now our life is a fight.
And it is a lonely place to live in a fight.
This post is really long already and I haven't even gotten to the What I'm Learning Through All Of This part. Rest assured, I am learning. God is teaching me so much through all of this. Here is Part 2 - What I'm learning. And here is Part 3 - What I am doing.
So, where do you stand in relationship to strong-willed children? Do you have one? Do you know loneliness, even in a crowd of supportive friends? Do you fight with your child every single day? Do you see the up side of your kid's crazy personality? Do you know that you're not alone?