Today was a very long day for our very strong willed threenager.
(Side note: she was born strong willed. Being a threenager is in ADDITION to that, not the cause of it, lest you simply dismiss this post because she is “being three.”)
There was back talk and toy throwing and disobedience and discipline. It is hard. I love having fun with my kids, and I hate when that fun comes to an end because I have to handle behavior issues- especially when it’s the same thing again and again.
But that wasn’t all there was today. There were tears and apologies. There was her little voice explaining, “I just got so FWUSTWATED!” There were hugs and forgiveness and kisses and reminders that I love her “so much, all the time, forever and always, no matter what.” And that the only reason I discipline is BECAUSE I care- because if I wasn’t interested in her having a good life, I would just let her do whatever she wanted. And there were snuggles and “mama, can I sit in your lap” and reading book after book before bed. And bedtime is where I am the last face she sees at the end of the day as I cuddle her close and hear her prayers, her favorite things about the day, her voice saying “Mama, can I talk to you?” when she has one more thing to discuss, seeing her big blue eyes, and her still sucking her thumb and snuggling her panda. I get to take in her sweet face as I blow her one last kiss from the door and whisper one more “I love you, sweet dreams!” before I shut the door on my way to her big sister’s room to do the same sweet bedtime routine again.
Parenting a strong willed child is kind of like moving a mountain one shovelful at a time. It’s monumental and time consuming and exhausting, and sometimes you wonder if you’re even getting anywhere with all of that effort.
But that isn’t all it is.
It’s also love. Pure love. I marvel at her the way one marvels at a storm on an ocean- strong and fierce and overwhelming at times, but you don’t cease to love the ocean just because it isn’t always calm- you simply learn to navigate the storms. And I have found that her strong will means mine has to be even stronger, or I would be knocked over by the force of her. So I have become strong in new ways. I have to- because that’s what she needs in me. And there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. She is worth it.
My husband looked at me tonight after we got the girls in bed and said, “today about killed me. I know you do this all the time. But it was so hard with her today.” I just said, “I know.” Because I do. But I also know we aren’t the only ones who can feel overwhelmed and like the only people we know dealing with this.
So for all you other parents of strong willed kids, when you are frustrated and feel like you are getting no where, when you feel like everyone is judging you and secretly worry that maybe they’re right about your parenting skills, when you simply don’t know what else to do because you’re already giving 100%….just hold on. Keep shoveling the mountain of strong willed behavior, bit by bit. Weather the storm. Whatever metaphor works for you- go with it. It’s ok to say it’s hard. To sweat or cry or scream into a pillow. You aren’t alone here.
And YOU were chosen for this child for a reason. They needed your fierce love and dedication. There is a reason they weren’t born to judgy-McJudgers over there giving you side eye. Hold your head up mom or dad- that parent couldn’t HANDLE your daily challenges. They either have forgotten what it’s like to be in your shoes or never had the experience of raising a force of nature in 3t form, so their opinion is about as valuable as dirt. We aren’t here to put on a show for anyone else’s approval anyway- we’re just over here, doing our level best by our kids. And some days that means a normal shopping trip where nothing goes wrong (because you now know to bribe them with slushies the minute you enter Target), and other days it means hugging the kid you spanked with one arm and the kid who took a Barbie to the face with the other (not to get specific or anything).
I remind myself (all the time, like a mantra) that this phase won’t last forever. It really won’t. So I’ll share the encouragement I have soaked up from mamas with grown kids:
Don’t give up on doing the hard work of teaching them while they are young and capable of being shaped– even if it feels like you’re chipping away at a mountain or simply trying to stay afloat in your own life, wondering how such a sweet toddler can turn your whole day on its head without a moment’s notice.
If we give it all we’ve got now, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to see them use that iron will to do something incredible or stand for something amazing in the future.
It’s usually the people who don’t back down who get things accomplished in this world, after all.
For now though, I’ll settle for less back talk, more hugs, and a glass of wine.