One of my children loses things - shoes, library books and other people’s property. And at times, he loses his mind (just kidding... sort of)! And when the item goes missing, he insists on arguing that he is not at fault. By the end of his erroneous tirade of accusations, he ends it all by stomping away and screaming followed by a door slam.
When seeking wisdom on how to parent this particular child, I have encountered the phrase strong-willed child in multiple areas - parenting courses, books, and online articles. One article offered a checklist to determine whether my child was strong-willed:
- Angry outbursts
- Demand to know why
- They can argue forever
- They’re bossy
- They refuse to do things they don’t want to do
- They’re impatient
- They make their own rules
- They insist on getting what they think they deserve
- They ignore warnings they don’t want to hear
- They move at their own pace
Check. Check. Check… the answer was “yes” to all ten of these.
All signs pointed to an undeniable reality...
I am a strong-willed child.
No, it’s not a typo. It would be so easy for me to write this blog about my strong-willed boy! But the reality is that this issue has so much more to do with how God has discipled this strong-willed child now turned into a strong-willed mama.
Of course I want to teach, implement (all.the.things), and mold my kids into these perfect children I have idealized (and idolized), but ultimately I cannot control who they are. The truth is this - the only person I can control is myself.
Certainly my husband and I play an essential part in how our children will be formed and we influence who they might one day be, but in the end, they will choose for themselves. I cannot control them. In the same way, God does not control me.
And for this control seeking mother and wife, this realization makes my eye twitch. Because even after all these years of walking with the Lord, I go astray. I lean on my own understanding and human limitations, and I try to control everything (and everyone).
Just like on the afternoon when my own strong-willed son admitted to losing (another) friend’s toy, I was furious. I forced him to scour the house looking for it. His fight or flight instinct kicked in and he displayed every one of those ten characteristics from the list above.
I nagged him in hopes of ringing out one ounce of remorse and ownership from this kid. He and I argued in circles, and I showed my frustration and disappointment in his actions. So he fired back with an enormous tantrum.
It wasn’t until I experienced a similar situation that I was able to draw the parallels between my strong-willed son and my strong-willed self. Except for me, it wasn’t a toy I lost. I remembered when I lost an opportunity to show love, I carelessly “misplaced” a friendship, and I relied on my human understanding and prideful reasoning to convince myself I was right.
And when I “lost” this friendship I started looking around at everyone else but myself to place the blame. While my eyes were lasered in on the external excuses, internally I was at war with myself. Shame and embarrassment blinded me to truth and reason. I was displaying every characteristic on that list, as well. I was throwing a mama tantrum - a mamantrum. *
For my son, after his explosive outburst had passed, and he had both time and space to gather himself, he slinked down from his room, and slid up next to his mama. This time I chose mercy and grace - the only person I can control is me.
I knew my boy just needed my warmth and affection, without words, I told him “you’re good, you’re loved, you’re forgiven.” I just held him.
In this moment he didn’t need my words. And although I wanted to lecture and make this a teachable moment, what he needed right then was his mom to tell him he is worthy, and he's forgiven. He had already wrestled with his own shame and embarrassment of both losing his friend’s toy and losing his emotional control. Right then he just needed undeniable love.
My son eventually apologized. Typically he is slow to contrition, but like that tenth point from above says, my son does things on his own time. And I forgave him. I will always forgive him.**
When I showed my son my never-ending love and forgiveness, and I didn’t demand an instant apology. I gave him a new mom. I was able to reflect the overwhelming love God has shown towards me and in turn, give that gift that to my son. God doesn’t withhold His love or affection from me until I apologize or show myself “worthy enough”. And this is love.
This is real love--not that we loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
1 John 4:10 NLT
The Lord embraces me and says that I am good, I am loved, I am forgiven. God our Father is greater and stronger than my (or my son’s) strong wills.
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV
*My strong-willed self apologized to my friend I had wronged and we reconciled.
**My strong-willed child had to use his own money to replace the lost toy.