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Out of the four precious little darlings that I grew and birthed, I have a sneaking suspicion that all four of them are strong willed. So, evidently, the joke’s on me.
You see, after we had our first, I thought this parenting thing wasn’t all that hard. When she was eight months old I told my hubs that I wanted number two and after a couple months of thinking about it, he agreed.
So, before my first turned one, I was pregnant with another. Two kids still didn’t seem all that bad and then surprise, number three was on deck. While we didn’t plan the timing of that baby, we had figured we’d be going for more than two anyways, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. And he wasn’t…for awhile.
But even when he was mellow and chill and had the sweetest blue eyes you’ve ever seen, not being able to have one adult to one child was a slight challenge. My husband didn’t want to be out in public all that much due to the fact that at any given moment our tiny army of kids might revolt, but all in all, it was still going pretty smoothly.
Add number four to the mix along with a side of my son deciding that he really enjoyed tantrums and screaming (many, many, many, many times a day) and things were getting a bit spicier. And that’s when I began to wonder if almost all children are strong willed in some way, shape or form.
Looking For Answers
With this thought in mind, I did what any sane mother would do and I picked up a parenting book at the library by a well known Christian author about these strong willed children I had heard of in years past.
Spoiler alert: my son still threw tantrums. I still had four kids with strong likes and dislikes. I still had a little lady with an ever growing vocabulary to tell me exactly what she thought. I still had a precious little nugget that has the most emotional melt downs I’ve ever witnessed. And being a rather emotional person myself, that’s saying something.
And do you know why I still had all the same strong willed issues at hand? I absolutely was not willing to break my child’s will, as this author suggested. Absolutely not. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the intention of the directive, but when someone tells me to apply pressure to the back of my child’s neck, just enough to cause some pain and for them to not want me to do it again, I say no. Sorry. Ain’t happening. I’m not even getting into the whole physically dominating side of this practice, really. It just seemed like bullying to me. Bullying my children into being obedient. And that’s not the kind of obedience I’m looking for.
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Obedience Above All Else
This author, along with plenty others, strongly emphasize the almost absolute priority we should put on having obedient children. As a Christian, I should be helping my children learn to be obedient to one that is higher than them: me. And after they have learned that practice, they will more easily learn to be obedient to God. I see the logic. I grew up in church and reading the Bible so I even know the passages used to enforce this line of thinking.
But I’m not sure it really reflects the heart of God.
I’ll be honest, I’m a recovering missionary who still wants to be a Christian. I’m trying to figure things out and I may have all of this totally out of whack given my current season. But taking a step back from some of the details has reminded me of the bigger, simple picture. God loves me. He wants me to voluntarily choose to follow him and love him as a reaction to his love for me. Instead of breaking my will, he does this:
- Allows me to choose to be obedient to him because he loves me and I love him
- Allows me to experience natural consequences when I choose to do things my own way if they don’t line up with his (and should)
So, as a parent, instead of breaking my children’s wills, I want to:
- Allow my children to choose to be obedient to me because they love me and I love them
- Allow my children to experience natural consequences when they choose to do things their own way if they don’t line up with mine (and should)
Instead Of Breaking My Child’s Will
I truly believe that instead of breaking my children’s will, I need to cultivate a very trusting connection to their heart. If I set my mind to it, I could have the most obedient little troop of children you’ve ever seen. They’d never fall out of line and everything would look perfect. But I could care less about perfection. You know what I do care about?
I simply cannot get enough of the way each of my kids laugh when they are overcome with giggles. I try to do something to them each day that will elicit this kind of laughter because it just makes my world better. I don’t think children with a broken will would laugh nearly as often or as hard as my children do.
Because God loves me no matter what, I can be all of who I am without worrying that he’ll stop liking me. I’m free. And I want my kids to feel that same sense of freedom in our relationship. I have told them countless times that there is nothing they can do to stop me from loving them with my entire heart. They don’t have to hide any part of who they are, what they think, their likes and dislikes….they are totally free to be themselves and I will still like them and love them.
I believe that right now I am creating the connection I will be experiencing when my kids are teenagers. The foundation I build with them as 1, 3, 5 and 7 year olds is what will hold us when times are much more hormonal and turbulent. I have to start now. When things matter so much more than they do at this current, innocent age, I will have wanted to have earned the right to be connected to my child’s heart. I want to be trusted. I want to be respectful. I want them to care about our heart connection so much that they care how their actions affect me.
There’s a lot of other stuff I care about too, but I think those are close to my top three. Instead of obedient, broken willed children I want children who feel free to laugh and connect.
And so far, from what I’ve experienced, that breaks through to the heart of each of the stubborn, strong willed parts of my children. And do you know what else? My kids are pretty stinking obedient. Not because of my strong arming them into doing it, but because they feel safe, respected and connected.
They do know I’m the mom and they are the kid. But they know that I hope for and expect their obedience based on our heart connection, not an ominous idea of me coming down on them.
And when I don’t get that obedience, which happens regularly, we chat and endure the natural consequences (no need for shame, guilt or punishment) and go back to laughing and hugging and generally enjoying our strong willed selves.