I remember the day it happened. The day I realized that this little girl of mine, this spit-fire, was a whole other thing entirely and that I had no idea what I was doing.
She had just recently turned three, and I had a three-month-old baby plus a toddler. It was a packed life.
We were standing outside on the back porch, and I told my daughter to do something, which apparently she had no intention of doing. She quickly turned and smacked me straight across the face.
I was stunned…almost to the point of laughing! My mind rushed with how to respond and a story came to mind from a book I had recently read, so I calmly handed my baby off to my sister (who sat in shock nearby), took my daughter by the hand, and told her she needed to go to her room.
So, I put one hand on each of her arms, picked her straight up, and carried her like that up the stairs to her room, talking to her calmly about how hitting is not okay, and that her behavior was not okay. She kicked and screamed the whole time.
When we got upstairs, I calmly told her that she had to stay in her room and think about what she had done (laughable now looking back on it), but when I went to close the door, she ripped it open again from my hand.
Again, I closed the door, and again she opened it. I resorted to standing there, gripping the door closed to simply hold my ground, while my three-year-old stood on the other side attempting to pull the door open, then slinging books under the door at my toes.
Those were not fun days…
There was nothing amusing about what was happening, and I knew that I was entering into something that I was completely unprepared to handle: child autonomy.
That was six years ago, and I am happy to report that this child is a totally different experience now. She is still just as strong-willed and determined as ever, but I have had the blessing of six years of experience to develop a better understanding of who she is and how she operates, and I can honestly say I would not trade in those hard years for anything. I learned an enormous amount through them.
How Vision Helped to Transform a Difficult Child
My daughter was the quintessential “strong-willed” child, and it took me a long time to figure out how to best love and guide her. Her strength, though, meant that she was inevitably a leader in the household, so it was my job to help her embrace that role, bringing purpose and clarity to an otherwise upside-down thought pattern for her.
In my house, with six children all pretty close in age, there was no WAY I was going to allow a seed of rebellion to take root in the heart of one child, let alone all of them, so ignoring the problem was not an option.
With a family our size, there was also no way that I was going to bend myself over backwards attempting to constantly bow to the whims of my tantrum-child merely to save myself a few moments of sanity, tempting as it truly was.
In the long run, doing so would have caused far more damage than anything, because not only would I not teach very much about handling disappointment, delayed gratification, self-control, or many other virtuous character traits, but I would also have neglected my other children and their needs.
So, I had to learn how to love and lead my difficult child without losing my sanity in the process.
This is no “do these five things for a different child” or “all I had to do was say these three words” post. Parenting is much more complicated than all that.
There are no shortcuts in developing a child of character.
Some Lessons I Had to Learn to Train Her Heart
I tried a lot of different things over the years, but I never made more progress than when I stopped trying to do what the latest “parenting model” proclaimed, and simply sought the Lord in prayer. He was the single greatest vantage point for which I could have ever asked.
In my times of prayer, He helped me to see the different struggles that my child had. When I cried out for help, He guided me to understand what motivated and drove her. From His vantage point, He helped me to see when I was pushing too hard, and when I needed to encourage more.
Thankfully, He let me know when I had been too harsh and then helped me stand firm when I needed to hold my ground in the face of her resentment.
Parenting my difficult child has been one of the most significant, growing, and challenging times of my life, but I would not change it for the world.
I had to learn how to motivate her while respecting her insecurities, like when I allowed for a stop in our “reading lessons” because she hated them (code for I have to really try with this, and I don’t think I will ever succeed). But, I had her read all the instructions for her math assignments (a subject in which she was strong and confident). Over time she caught onto the nuances of language and today is a very strong reader.
I had to learn how to stop trying to get her to grow and learn at the pace I decided was appropriate, but instead, give her the freedom to learn and grow at the pace that she thought was best…even if it meant she was stagnant and seemed to be doing almost nothing for a time.
You see, I had to learn to trust the Lord and stop trying to be a control freak.
He had all the best motivating tools. When my difficult child chose to neglect school work for a time (which still meant she had to sit in her chair and be bored), her sister took the spotlight for approval and praise because she was working hard. This motivated my difficult child (who is also highly competitive) to get her rear in gear…and I did not have to say a thing.
Lessons of Truth that Needed to Sink In For Her
As she has grown, we have had many, many talks and discussions. I have talked to her about the long-term ramifications of sluggard behaviors. I have explained to her that her negligence does nothing to hurt or harm me. I’m fine. I already am an adult. I finished school. But, her future, however, is what is on the line.
I explain that such choices only hurt her own life, so it is foolish and unwise for her to do anything other than her best.
For a season, I know she resented her position of influence in the family, so we also talked long and hard about the little eyes that are upon her and the effects of the choices that she makes, whether she likes it or not.
The reality is that our family is not going to change, so resenting her position is not really going to bear her much more than a bitter spirit and ugly heart. She carried around misery for a long time until this Truth helped set her free.
Resentment for her position was not going to provide freedom from it.
I helped her to see the joy she felt when her little brother or sister did something that she spent time teaching them, like counting up to three or taking the first steps into her arms. I helped her to see that she had a significant value within our family and that her presence was vitally important to the hearts of all those younger than her because in their eyes, she was amazing and they loved her immensely.
Over time, and with much repetition on my part, she began to see the patterns of brokenness within her that followed a time of rebellion, and the intense joy and blessing that came with obedience and following our lead.
There was no overnight change in her heart, but committed love and persistent course correction on my part helped to shape and mold our very difficult child into a pillar of strength in this family.
I have no doubt that she will continue to inspire and challenge her brothers and sisters to greatness as the vision for her position is understood more and more.
The Bottom-Line Mom Vision
Here’s the biggest breakthrough lesson I have had while parenting a difficult child:
The vision for motherhood is not to create little automatons who do things exactly like I would or do, but to develop people of character, who love Yahweh more than anything else and follow diligently after Him.
If it means they do things a little differently than me, that’s fine.
I do believe that every intentional parent has the ability to really lead their child to the ultimate success of character with consideration for who the child is, and how they were designed. Yahweh desires to use our children to draw us closer to Him for clarity on these matters.
I have made a lot of mistakes along the way as a mom, and I don’t regret them. They have made me who I am today, and they have strengthened the bond I share with my children.
They have gotten to see my scars and mistakes, and then see me humble before them, asking for forgiveness. Then, they experience my love when I praise them for their hard work, and feel my disappointment when they give less than their best.
It is this authenticity and consistency of reasonable expectation that unites us as a family.
So, no this is not a “how to” post, but it is a “why to” post. Our world needs people of character, and we are the ones charged with training them into existence. “Gird up your loins” Mama, and dig in, because no one else is here to parent your children for you, but our Abba is surely present to walk hand-in-hand to help every step of the way.
And, with Him as the guidepost for each course correction, and His Word as the foundation for Truth, you can be sure that you are doing your best to raise up the next generation…what they do with that, however, is up to them.