“Lamp. Lamp. Laaaaamp,” my 2-year-old son screamed while stomping his feet. Tears were running down his face and snot was dripping dangerously close to his mouth.
I put on what I hoped would be a soothing, motherly tone, “Okay, just calm down.” While trying to maintain eye contact, I slowly reached toward the tissue box. This must be what the greats like Jeff Corwin, Steve Irwin, or the Kratt brothers feel like when facing a volatile animal in the wild.
The sound of a tissue being pulled from the box caused the crying to stop abruptly. His eyes flitted toward my outstretched arm, aware of what was coming.
“Noooo! NO!” he wailed, simultaneously using his shirt sleeve to wipe mucus all over his face.
I tried to distract him. I sang, offered toys, opened books. Still, the raucous howling continued.
My darling Silas is nothing if not a man who knows what he wants. And when he decides what that is, there is little that will change his mind. In this case, his heart was set on a small flashlight with a laser pointer at one end. He had played with it the evening before and no one knew what had become of it. Dropped behind the couch? Pushed under the piano? Eaten by a dragon? It was anyone’s guess.
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He calls anything that lights up a “lamp,” hence the ear-piercing plea. Another light wouldn’t do. He needed that one.
There are words for this type of child.
As moms, we swap stories about our children and their wild tantrums over silly things. We nod in solidarity. We bemoan the fact that we were once stubborn children, and are “now getting what we deserve.” We say things like, “Silas is spirited,” when really, we mean, “I am losing my mind, why won’t he just comply?!”
As a mom of two “spirited” boys, and as a former stubborn child myself, I get it.
I vividly remember the boiling rage and frustration I felt when things didn’t turn out how I wanted, but I didn’t know how to be any other way. The stubbornness was inborn, instinctual.
For a long time, I saw this stubbornness as a defect that must have made raising me an often-miserable task. For the sake of my parents, I wished I had been an “easy” child.
Then, in 2014 my view on stubbornness changed. During my darkest, most traumatic moment, stubbornness saved my life. Under a circumstance I never imagined, I was able to look death in the face and decide—with the audacity only a highly spirited child can understand—that I would live. Nay, I would find a way to thrive.
Since then, God has continued to reframe my perspective on being headstrong. The inborn stubbornness that had seemed so negative was a gift woven into my being that would prepare me for the hardships to come.
I think it’s time to lift the stigma and reshape our collective view of the stubborn ones, the wild ones.
Let’s embrace the fact that an iron will, when shepherded wisely, is an asset—not a liability. Let’s celebrate and uplift this natural bent toward tenacity.
What if, instead of wondering how we can get them to conform, we wondered how we can teach them to harness their strength of character? What if we met the challenge of rearing a headstrong person with joy because they are naturally capable of holding their own, speaking their mind, and fighting for what they believe in?
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Although our little ones may seem glued to our side right now, a time is coming when their days will be spent away from us in the vast world beyond our front doors. We have no way of knowing what hardships will find them, but I can wager we all want them to stand strong when challenges arise.
In the trenches of tantrums, it’s easy to wish things were different.
Raising a headstrong child isn’t easy, and it will require a lot of grace. We’ll need to rein in the temper and frustration and find ways to calm our own nerves, but instead of getting lost in the noise of these days, let’s joyfully set our eyes on the future.
These strong-willed littles have a built-in sword they will use to stand tall, defend what is right, protect themselves, and solve problems. We just have to step up to the great responsibility of teaching them to wield their tenacity wisely.
We are raising strong people.
When put that way, it’s easier to wipe the snot, encourage patience, and tell them the truth, “You are stubborn, strong-willed, and spirited—and you are wonderfully made. You are exquisitely equipped for the life that lies ahead.”