I was a perfect parent before kids. My theoretical kids were cherubs. I had all the answers. It was going to be all natural, no epidurals, organic baby food, cloth diapers, only breastmilk, never raising my voice, thru-the-night sleepers, dot, dot, dot. I was the living definition of the perfect mom. In theory.
And then, four years ago Zoe happened. And you know what, no…I didn’t do everything the way that I had envisioned in my “perfect”fantasy, but I did manage to meet the majority of my expectations. Yes, she changed our world. Drastically. But she was easy. So easy. I remember being so scornful of moms who had picky eaters, temper tantrum throwers, non-sleepers. I thought that I had perfected this motherhood thing, that I was a born natural. Ha. The truth is, yes, I can take credit for some of the successes I experienced in those first couple of years with just Zoe. But a lot of the ease I enjoyed was simply because of her personality. She is one laid back, contented, happy kid, even today. (Disclaimer: No. She is not perfect. She did her fair share of stomping her feet, expressing her opinions and full-body flinging. But in reality, it was quite minimal.)
I was a pretty self-assured first-time mom, so of course we wanted to sign up for Baby #2! I’d knocked Baby #1 outta the park. Clearly if I just inserted this specific formula of sleep training + nursing + appropriate amount of stimulation, I’d crank out another angel. And then… God laughed.
Elsie was born almost two years exactly after Zoe. From day one, I should have been warned that she wasn’t going to be told what to do or how to do it. October 25th was my due date. To her, November 5th sounded more appropriate. The doctor said she was small in comparison to Zoe (according to how I was measuring). Only an 8 pound baby at the most, he said. Ten days late and coming in at a whopping ten and a half pounds with an epidural that didn’t work, Elsie Adaline entered our world.
Adjusting to a new baby while keeping up with a toddler was difficult. Don’t get me wrong. But for the first few months, it seemed like we somehow had miraculously managed to bring another contented, easy-going child into the world. Then nine months hit. And my precious baby suddenly started throwing temper tantrums. At nine months. Not just an occasional whine, but I’m talking the humiliating, arch-your-back-throw-your-body-scream-until-your-eyes-pop-out-in-the-checkout-line kind of temper tantrum. She stopped sleeping. She grew increasingly frustrated at her lack of mobility and communication.
(Let me make another disclaimer here. I try very hard to not compare my girls. It’s hard at times. Especially when they’re of the same gender. It’s only natural for me to compare Elsie to Zoe. Yet Jeff and I strive to celebrate their uniqueness and differences. But in the long run, this was the truth: Zoe was an easy kid. Elsie was not.)
Very suddenly I realized that my perfect formula for my perfect children was very, very imperfect. Elsie is independent, fiercely independent. Those first few months of dealing with this sudden change in Elsie’s temperament were extremely humbling. I remember feeling so ashamed for how arrogant I must have come across in the past. I remember scrambling and flipping through pages of every and any kind of parenting book, trying to “fix” my child. And this is where I make the obvious statement that it wasn’t my child who needed fixing but rather my perspective.
All along, I thought that her strong-will needed to be controlled. Or even at times, broken. I was the parent, after all. I was the one who was supposed to be in control of the situation, the boss. And then a thought suddenly hit me – why do I think that a strong-will is such a bad thing? Wouldn’t I much rather have a strong-willed child compared to a weak-willed child? Right then and there was when I decided to embrace Elsie’s strength of will.
Don’t get me wrong – I do not have all the answers about how to deal with a feisty child. Elsie is still extremely fiery and challenging. She’s only two after all. I’m sure that we’re in for a long haul of head-butting. But, there are some tips that I’ve picked up along the way with how to deal with a strong-willed child that I wish I could have been more aware of at the time:
1) First off – change your mindset. A strong-will is not a bad thing. When I think of the literal opposite of a strong-will, I think of a weak-willed individual, someone who never stands up for anything, someone who is walked over and taken advantage of. A strong-will is a good thing.
2) Allow yourself to be vulnerable. It’s extremely humbling to have a child who makes you eat your words, or look the fool. But by finally realizing that I was not the perfect parent, I opened myself up to a whole community of moms I would have never met. To top it off, I didn’t realize the immense pressure I had put myself under to look like I had Elsie and her larger-than-life personality under control. Once I verbally admitted that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, I felt so much relief.
3) Be on the same page as parents. Discipline is a hard thing. It’s an even harder thing to be united on as parents. Jeff and I both came to parenthood with different disciplinary methods that we thought were appropriate. There was nothing like having a strong-willed child thrown into the mix to make us even more divided. It was like she knew who the weakest link was between us…and even at a year old, boy! Did she know how to play us! As much as we have now embraced Elsie’s spunky character, there are definitely times when she needs to be reined in. We just now approach discipline as a united front.
4) When the moment has passed, ask yourself why she’s acting out this way. If there is one thing that Elsie has taught me, it’s that I need to be a student of my children. I have discovered that Elsie acts out more when she doesn’t have one-on-one time with me (or Jeff). Sometimes all it takes is spending 15-20 minutes with just Elsie to make everything right in her world again.
Like I said, this is not something that I have perfected yet. There are days where I am still pulling out my hair, biting my tongue, locking myself in the bathroom. But the truth is, I love that little girl more than life itself. I love every ounce of her stubborn, hot-blooded, scrappy character. And I know that someday, I’m going to stand back in awe at the mountains she’s going to move in life, exclaiming, “Hey! You see her? You see that girl? You see what she did? That’s MY kid!”