Her time outs weren't like my other two. The others pouted and cried and looked forward to the punishment ending. They complied within a “reasonable” amount of time.
She prolonged the process as long as her energy and drive would sustain her. She screamed, kicked, yelled, and lashed out in uncontrolled fury at the woman who had given her life. Her eyes (and sometimes mouth) screamed, "I hate you!" She was defiant. Out of control. She was strong-willed. I would sit crying on one side of the door while she kicked and screamed and shook the walls of the house on the other side.
STRONG-WILLED CHILD. Just the mention of these words can make the most conscientious parent break out in a cold sweat! Most of us, if we are completely honest with ourselves, would rather have God give these children to another, more capable parent. The truth is, we prefer the compliant, rational, well-behaved child over and above the one who wants to “rule the world” and everyone in it. Why? Because the compliant child is so much easier! They are the children who complete the “perfect home,” or at least our romantic ideas of a “perfect home”.
Our home was blessed with a strong-willed child. Our first. I had prayed for a child, longed for the day when I could be a mommy. We welcomed our darling little girl home. OH WHAT JOY! I was so excited that I finally had the little one I had desired for so long. Scared and inexperienced, I began my parenting journey.
It did not take me long to realize that this precious gift from God was going to be difficult. At six months old she held on to the side of her crib screaming “baby obscenities” at me because it was time for bed… and I had actually put her to bed. How could I?!
The first years of her life were constant battles of when she slept, what she ate, when she would and would not obey, who would be the recipient of her outbursts of anger when things didn’t go her way, and who would end the day as victor. By the time she was two years old I was convinced I had a preschool delinquent and was unsure where to turn or how to proceed. I’d read all the parenting books, even the ones on strong-willed children, and grew more discouraged. To complicate matters, I had another baby which, by the way, our stubborn child did not appreciate one bit. As the days and weeks and months progressed, I feared I was fighting a losing battle… and I was on the losing end.
Then, one day, in desperation I got serious about prayer. I had always prayed for her, but this day was different. It is still vivid in my mind the day I lay on my face (literally) before the Lord crying out to Him for wisdom to parent the child He had given to me. As I poured out my heart, I completely relinquished any ability of my own. Everything I tried had failed. I wanted to clear my thinking of everything I thought would work and let God fill me with His way of parenting this child. After all, He had placed her in our home with a specific purpose for her life and for ours. He could be glorified through this child and through her exasperated parents. But I knew if this were going to be accomplished, I was going to have to get out of the way with my preconceived ideas of how to parent her and let God do His work in and through me to parent her His way.
That moment did not make parenting any easier, but it did change my perspective. I no longer relied on my ability or sufficiency but instead made a conscious effort to rely on Christ. II Corinthians 3:5 says, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” I began to pray daily for wisdom – and really mean it. God began to impress upon my heart and mind ways to deal with my child in ways she would respond to positively. All of a sudden we began to have GOOD days intermingled with the normal days. I began to see baby steps of a heart that was more submissive and open to direction and guidance. Our home began to have days of calm instead of chaos. The eggshells I had always walked on were beginning to disappear. God was accomplishing his way in my child’s heart as well as mine.
There’s no “cure” for a strong-willed child. They are as God made them. Our role as parents is to instruct them and guide them in all godliness.
As the years progressed we had good seasons and challenging seasons. The bumps in the road were always there or looming over the horizon…a family move to a new state, making new friends, teenage years, curfew, dating and other milestones were always faced with much time seeking wisdom from the Lord. But I always knew that God was my sufficiency and He would give grace at just the right time.
Prayer was the key for me in dealing with my rebellious child. This led me to complete and total reliance on the Lord in order to face each day and the challenges it might hold. Having worked with children for 37 years, I’ve had many parents ask me how to parent strong-willed children. I don’t think they expect the answer they always get from me…PRAY! Each child is unique. God created each one according to His special design. No two children can be parented exactly alike. What works for one won’t always work for another. There are no pat answers to parenting any child. The Bible gives us principles and guidelines every parent should use, but ultimately God is in control of the results.
The interesting thing about parenting for me, especially parenting a strong-willed child, is that I didn’t always recognize God’s hand immediately in the wisdom He gave me to parent our child. It was not until years later, when she was all grown up, that I was able to look back and see how God worked in my life to benefit our daughter. Now as I mentally travel through the timeline of her years spent in our home, I can earmark the times when God gave incredible wisdom as evidenced by the end result…a godly, young woman whose life is committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, her husband, and her children and who reflects the grace and mercy of her God Who has molded her into the special young lady she is today!
Tears of joy roll down my cheeks even now as I think of those blessed years with Desiré in our home (yes, our strong-willed child is the blogger you follow) and God took an inexperienced mom and dad and extended grace and wisdom to us to parent a defiant little girl who would one day bring Him great honor. Press hard into him, weary Mama. He can work in spite of your inabilities and fears. I pray that one day you will be able to sing as I do, “To Him be the glory, great things HE has done.”
Debbie has been married to her best friend for 30 years. She has three daughters, two son-in-laws, and two terrific grandsons. She has worked with children for 37 years as a volunteer in church, a children's minister, a school teacher and a mother. She currently teaches third grade in a Christian school.