“He’s awful. I wouldn’t babysit him for a million dollars.”
I heard what they said about me, those teenage girls. I heard every word. So did you.
It’s me, your stubborn, strong-willed child.
Mom, those girls don’t see the countless hours you spend trying to figure me out. They don’t see the tears you shed. They don’t know that you feel helpless and lost. You wonder whether you’re a terrible mother. I’m always in trouble. It seems that way, at least. I’m rebellious, constantly pushing boundaries. I never sit still. Ever. You’re spent emotionally, physically and spiritually. And the comment from those girls pushed you over the edge.
I’m here to say, “Thank you.” Mom, raising a stubborn, strong-willed child is crazy hard. Instincts and intuitions go out the window, right? The world says strong-willed, stubborn kids are problems that need to be fixed, with rebellious spirits that needs to be tamed. I know raising me isn’t easy, but I’m here today because of you. Here are a few things I want to thank you for.
Thank you for pointing me to Jesus rather than forcing me to conform. There are so many resources on parenting a strong-willed child like me. Most of them show you how to make me obey and conform. But you are uneasy about seeing me as a problem that needs to be fixed. Maybe you realize that changing me creates more resistance. The details are insignificant. Here’s what matters. Rather than imposing your will, you lean closer to Jesus. You trust Him to get you through the hard days, asking Him to do something you can’t…transform my heart.
Have you ever thought about this, mom? Almost every quality considered negative as a child is positive for adults.
A mischievous child becomes a curious adult.
A defiant child becomes a determined adult.
An obsessive child becomes a persistent adult.
Do you see, mom? What’s considered negative as a child is positive as an adult, traits you would want in a CEO or something.
Thank you for working with me rather than fighting against me. I think I came out of the womb with boxing gloves. I push back against everything. And I push hard. For a while, you fought hard too. You remember that time, right before my third birthday. I refused to eat dinner, but you were determined to make me eat? Determined to win this one for all the parents of strong-willed children, you said I wouldn’t leave the table until I took a bite of something.
Two hours later, when you realized I wasn’t eating, you sent me to bed. I woke up at 5 a.m. screaming for food. I was starving, mom.
After that night, something changed. You put down the boxing gloves. You stopped trying to win. Not because you knew you couldn’t. You knew I wasn’t your opponent. You chose to empower me rather than overpower me. Thank you, mom. It’s crazy. When you put down the gloves, so did I. You see glimpses of this now. You’ll see it more fully in time.
Today, I listen to others rather than assert my will. I would rather be collaborative than competitive. I’m not sure I would be this way if you never put down the gloves.
Thank you for teaching me rather than telling me. I want a “why” for everything. It’s insanely frustrating. I know. Giving me rules without explanations is easier. “Because I said so” requires much less time and energy than your rationale. But you choose to explain things, even to four-year-old me.
Here’s the thing. I don’t go with the flow, even if it’s your flow. It’s not that I don’t trust you, not at all, mom. It’s that I want to know why this is happening. It’s not personal. It’s part of my makeup.
This causes your hair to fall out in the shower. Or maybe you pull it out. Do you pull it out, mom, or do you shed?
Never mind, let’s keep moving.
My refusal to conform and ask questions is a gift mom. In high school and college, my stubbornness will keep me from going with the crowd. I will make mistakes, plenty of them. But more times than not, I will choose the right decision over the easy one.
You see, all that processing and asking and pushing boundaries is my attempt to feel out the world, not disobey you. And as I process your rationale, I learn the importance of boundaries. I understand why they exist. I realize you’re not keeping me from something. You’re protecting me from something: destructive outcomes.
Later in life, as many around me make destructive decisions, I won’t, mostly because I’ve been there and done that. Right now, I’m crossing boundaries and paying the consequences. You remember the five stitches for splitting my ear open? You told me not to climb on the bookshelf. I didn’t listen.
Boom! E.R. Sedation. Stitches.
I remember reading this in a book. It’s called Originals, I think. In the book, the author says highlights the most successful entrepreneurs. As kids, he says, they are more likely to defy their parents, skip school and gamble.
Here’s what fascinating, though.
After studying the most successful entrepreneurs, researchers found they were far less likely to engage in hazardous activities like driving drunk, buying illegal drugs or stealing valuables as teenagers.
I’m not saying I will skip school as a teenager…or maybe I am.
I know life is hard right now, mom. But don’t question your impact or effectiveness as a parent. I’m a round peg in a square hole. But don’t give up. You’re an amazing mother. Keep pointing me to Jesus. Every day. Jesus will turn my stubborn, non-conforming personality into something good.
One day, when faced with a tough decision, I will choose what’s right over what’s easy. This decision might cost me friendships. It might cost me a job, maybe even my life. But my personality won’t allow me to choose any other way. I must swim upstream. And maybe someone decides to swim with me. In doing so, maybe this person avoids imminent danger downstream. In that moment, even if it’s only one person, that person will be glad you didn’t make me conform.
Mom, you’re amazing. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for never giving up. Thank you for enduring the hard days. Thank you for trusting Jesus more than a self-help book or an expert blog post.
I love you, mom.