For a very long time, I was really fantastic at this whole parenting thing. I had it all figured out. I knew just what to do in pretty much any situation I came across, and I didn’t understand why so many parents seemed clueless when it came to raising their children.

Then, on a snowy Saturday morning in November, everything changed. I gave birth to my first son. I was no longer just “Auntie” or the babysitter or the judgmental bystander watching from the sidelines, with a “my kid will never do that!” attitude. Now, I was officially a mom, and things were about to get real.

I guess God has a fantastic sense of humor, because my firstborn was a very intense and challenging baby. I was served a big piece of humble pie as I quickly realized parenting was so much harder than it had looked from my previous vantage point. My son was crying or fussy more often than not. He had multiple feeding issues. His naps were short and sporadic. As a toddler, he became upset more easily and was way more clingy than other kids. He was an extremely picky eater. He stopped napping altogether at age two. It seemed like nothing was ever simple or easy. Sometimes I wondered if I was just being overly dramatic. Was he harder to parent than any other baby or toddler? Was it just me? Maybe he was an easy kid and I just wasn’t all that great at motherhood. In my mind, that was a distinct possibility.

Then a few months before my oldest son turned three, his baby brother was born. I was shocked and quite frankly, relieved, at how much easier everything was the second time around. As the easier days with my second son turned into easier months, and those months turned into easier years, I came to a new conclusion.

Maybe I had been a decent mom all along.

Perhaps some kids are just flat-out harder to parent than others.

The choices we make as parents—from how we choose to discipline, to the food we provide, to household rules—certainly have some effect on our kids and their behavior. But when it comes to nature vs. nurture, nature seems play a bigger role than I ever thought possible. I really do believe children are born with distinct temperaments that become more and more apparent as time passes. Certain things they grow out of. But it seems some personality traits are recognizable from an early stage and don’t really change all that much.

Raising a child with a challenging temperament can be really, really, exhausting at times and can leave me feeling like a complete failure at the worst of times.

There are many days I am left in tears as I wonder why parenting (something that in my mind should come so naturally) is so dang hard. There are days I feel like I am not giving my son what he needs, and I am left scrambling for answers. I read books. I read blogs. I listen to podcasts. I seek outside professional help. I beg God to show me the right answer, to guide me, to help me not feel like such a failure as a mom, because even though I know it’s not all my fault, I often wonder what I’m doing wrong when things become especially hard.

Some days I feel stretched until I’m completely broken. My son pushes my buttons, he pushes boundaries, and the worst part? He pushes me away. And we aren’t even close to the teenage years! In this heap of brokenness, my unconditional love for him is mixed with anxiety about what the future might hold 10 years down the road.

And while I send my mostly easy-peasy kiddo to pre-school with few concerns, I worry about his older brother all the time. Is he doing OK at school? Is he making friends? Is he treating them kindly? Will the other kids be able to see the sweet heart behind his sometimes rough exterior? Is he listening well to his teacher?

Maybe if I would have had two relatively “easy” kids, I would still be perched on my high horse, wondering why other parents just can’t seem to get it together. It would have been all too easy to stay stuck in judgement mode, not understanding that the parents with the “unruly” toddler were trying their best.

For all the moms and dads raising a child with a challenging temperament, I get it now. I know how much effort you put in, day in and day out, and I know the tears you shed when you are worn thin. I also know that God chose you to shepherd your child, just as he chose me to shepherd mine.

These kids of ours? They may stretch our patience, but oh, how they have stretched our hearts as well.

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Dear Strong Willed Child, You’re Worth It

There’s No Right Way to Be a Good Parent

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Mary Ann Blair

Mary Ann Blair is a stay-at-home mom living in the Pacific Northwest with her two little gentlemen and hubs. She loves connecting with other parents who like to keep it real! Her work has been published on Her View From Home, Motherly, A Fine Parent, Perfection Pending, That’s Inappropriate, Pregnant Chicken, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Red Tricycle and in Chicken Soup For the Soul. She can be found at maryannblair.com or on Facebook at Miracles in the Mess