November 21, 2017

Lessons I’ve learned from my Strong-Willed Son.

Some children are born into this world with the incredible gift of a strong will and an indomitable spirit.

Unfortunately, unfair labels are often associated with them. We often view them as difficult, hard to parent, defiant, or even disabled.

As parents, we want our children to display at least some obedience and cooperation. We don’t want to deal with the strife of a son or daughter who is constantly telling us “no” or questioning all of our decisions. If this is your reality as a parent, it doesn’t mean you should be disappointed. Having a strong-willed child can not only be a positive, but also a rewarding experience.

Strong-willed children are usually focused and are considered to be quite creative and intelligent. They like being the boss, which often leads them into leadership roles as adults. They don’t care what others think, which helps them to be independent, strong, and resistant to peer pressure and bullies alike. They like to be self-expressive with their uniqueness and think for themselves—a great quality to have, as blind obedience is not necessarily a good thing.

If we start thinking about parenting as if we are raising an adult, we’ll realize that by encouraging our child to make wise decisions at a young age, navigating adult life will be easier. We might think that having an opinionated child is bad, but having an apathetic one is worse.

A word of warning for some future parents:

This journey is not for the faint of heart. There is a definite challenge in having a child who seems to challenge everything.

This is a subject I know all too well.

Eighteen years ago, I was blessed with a strong-willed child. He exploded into my life with a confident, valiant, gutsy, committed, resourceful, nonconforming, bold style on a hot and humid August night. And the journey we have been on together has made for one treasured, unforgettable experience.

As a parent, I knew my son was not your average toddler because he was constantly on, constantly challenging the status quo, and constantly testing boundaries in any and every situation so that he could gather and process information about his little world.

My strong-willed child had some different emotional needs and conveyed them in unique ways. Sometimes they were expressed out of anger. Other times out of frustration. This frustration led to him expressing his anger through aggressive acts, such as biting, kicking, pinching, and hitting. And other parents made sure to let me know how fearful I should be about that.

But what they didn’t understand was that this was something that needed to be welcomed in order to be understood. Every behavior is a communication. I just needed to figure out what he was trying to communicate to me.

At some point in my son’s life, I realized my child was not who I thought he would be. And I needed to be accepting of that. I wanted him to require my assistance on school projects, seek my advice on personal struggles, and basically be a little less independent than he was. But what he required from me was to understand his desire and need to be his own best problem-solver, his need for control, and his need to make his own decisions. I learned that sometimes, as a parent, it is necessary to be the cheerleader on the sidelines, not always the sole decision-maker.

My son would often have overblown reactions to seemingly minor events. And my reaction to these events was not always calm and peaceful. My strong-willed son has argued with me, berated his sibling, complained about school and homework, and argued about helping out with household chores. I still have the letter he wrote to the President of the United States about why homework needed to be outlawed in this country.

He loved Barbie dolls. Not G.I. Joes—only Barbies. I received a lot of criticism from other parents who felt I was trying to influence his sexuality, or maybe I secretly wanted a girl, or maybe I just hated G.I. Joe dolls. It wasn’t any of those. He just really loved Barbie. Even as we received dirty looks waiting in the checkout line at Target as he proudly held Malibu Barbie in his tiny little hands. The criticism from other parents made me a stronger parent and stronger advocate for my son.

His individuality was a beautiful thing that needed to be celebrated, not berated.

Last June, I watched him cross the stage at his high school graduation. My mind flashed back to all the times we worked it out together. We celebrated successes. Maybe not in the conventional parent/child way, but in a way that was most comfortable for us. The journey of parenting my son from infant to college-bound young man has not always been easy, but it was worth every tear, every ounce of sweat, and every prayer that I prayed over the years.

My goal has always been for my son to become the best version of himself, not the version that made parenting easiest for me.

Looking back, I know I made many mistakes as a parent. All parents do.

But what I can say I am most proud of is how my son knew all along where he belonged, what he wanted to do, and where his passion resided. What I’ve learned from this experience is that as parents, we are only given a small window of opportunity to shape a little human being into an adult that will make a difference in their community. After all, we are all designed to serve others in one capacity or another with the gifts and abilities we are given. Our job as parents is to help our children discover their unique gifts and abilities.

So, my fellow parents of beautifully defiant children, on those days when we feel our spirited and determined offspring have drained the very last bit of life out of us, we must look to the future. There will come a day when we wake up to a quiet, empty house and a hot cup of coffee for one. But because of our hard work nurturing our beautiful child’s unique character, chances are those quiet mornings will be spent on the phone with them, as they tell us about all the amazing adventures they are having while setting the world on fire.

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” ~ Harry S. Truman



The saddest Calvin & Hobbes cartoon you’ll ever ignore because you have more serious things to do.


Author: Melinda Campbell-Weber
Images: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis


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