Sometimes parents joke about the woes of raising their strong-willed child. The child who challenges their parents rules or ideas more than the other siblings. The one that has strong opinions about how things should go and wants to do things his or her own way. The old saying we often say in situations like this is “you have to laugh, otherwise you would cry.” Nathan and I find ourselves in this conundrum many times, because in different seasons of life we feel like we are raising not one, but instead four strong-willed children. From our parents’ perspectives, their grandchildren come by their strong-willed natures naturally, because Nathan and I were both strong-willed children who have grown into strong-willed adults. God bless our parents for raising us into adulthood!
As an enneagram 1 and recovering perfectionist, I naturally find purpose through seeking the “right” way to do things. When our oldest was a toddler, I remember listening to a Focus on the Family podcast series giving tips for parenting a strong-willed child. I thought if I could just find the right sequence and strategies, that I could mold her into a more compliant child. As I listened to the podcast, this was the first time that I had considered that being a strong-willed or strong-spirited child is not necessarily be a bad thing. (Which is good since Nathan and I both identify with having been strong-willed children.) Although it can be exhausting trying to guide your strong-willed children to trust that your plans and boundaries really are in their best interest, by not breaking their spirit, we can raise our strong-willed children to grow up to be the most incredibly persistent and determined adults.
What if we could inspire our children to catch a vision for how they could turn their strong-willed nature into something beautiful? Let’s think about these negative traits with their related potential positive traits:
|Negative Traits and Phrases||Related Positive Traits|
|inflexible||tenacious and persevering|
|marches to the beat of their own drum||leader|
With each of these character traits, there is an associated positive trait that we would love our children to grow into. Instead of seeing their stubbornness as something we need to whittle away at, let’s see this inner drive to persevere as something that will help them do the challenging, but so fulfilling calls that the Lord puts on their lives. So you might be thinking, “Okay, Kallie, this all sounds good, but how do we live this out in our parenting practically?!” Something our children consistently teach us is that parenting is all about intentionality. Purposefully and regularly seeking to notice what is motivating our children’s negative traits and inspiring them to catch a vision of how they could channel that drive or desire into a corresponding positive character trait.
When Jesus first called John and his brother James to be His disciples in Mark chapter 3, Jesus referred to the brothers as the “Sons of Thunder.” James and John were quick to jump to anger and wanted Jesus to take swift, harsh action toward those who were opposing them. As Jesus discipled the brothers, John’s character transformed, and he later became known as the “Apostle of Love.” When we think of the emotions of both anger and love, both are driven by passion and loyalty. Jesus noticed this about John’s character and inspired him to use this passion and loyalty to teach many generations of Christians to understand that people would know we are authentic Christians by our love for one another. In John 13:35, John writes, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Instead of being filled with righteous indignation, John became filled with righteous love for others.
Friend, I am wondering which of your children’s character traits are leaving you weary right now? What might be the corresponding positive character trait that we could inspire our children to see within themselves? I read once that a mother is the first mirror that a child sees himself or herself in. What positive character trait might we be able to reflect that would cause our children to bloom into the confident, focused, determined influential adults we know they could become? Who knows, we might be raising the next Paul, Peter, Esther, or Daniel? Maybe being strong-willed isn’t the negative character trait we once thought it was.