I’m currently in a pretty large women’s Bible study filled with moms. What I’ve learned from listening to moms in all stages–some with their first infant, to some with kids in college–is that most families have a tough kid in the batch. We’ve finessed it down to calling them our “firecracker” kid. Some have more than one and some have somehow managed to breed an easy-peasy offspring. But I think it is safe to say that on average, each family has a little strong-willed rascal.
While both of my kids do not fall into the “chill” category, I’ve found that one in particular has the ability to make me laugh, cry, smile, yell and want to give up all in the same day. I also find it easy to lament to my friends and family about this child’s recent shenanigans and how hard it is to parent such a fierce personality. It’s so much easier to complain about the hard kid than to acknowledge the GOOD in this child and the blessings that they bring me as a parent and to our family.
So here I am. Taking a stand for my firecracker kid. And yours too.
Their presence is invaluable and the shockwaves of their personality are still unmeasured. Our family would look entirely different without my strong-willed child and I wouldn’t want anything different. (Please don’t ask me to confirm that statement at 5pm though).
Here are just a few ways that I have seen my strong-willed child BLESS not only me but my family as well:
Blessing #1: Their Hearts are on Display
My little gal has BIG feelings. Her joy and excitement is contagious and can ignite a room. Celebrations are big. Books and toys are deeply loved. People are welcomed with exuberant hospitality when they walk in our door. She has her favorite people and they know who they are. Her passion, love and joy cannot be overlooked. She can make anyone feel deeply loved.
And yes, as you can imagine, the big feelings can go either way at any moment. I mean. Wow. I’m pretty sure my neighbors think we are raising a herd of velociraptors. I have chapters of great stories I’m tempted to share but they would distract from the point I’m trying to make.
Here is the beauty of a firecracker kid–you can easily see their hearts. You know what makes them exude joy or what hurts them so badly that all of the bones in their body melt away. When they are struggling and need encouragement, you know. When they need to be left alone, you know. When they need discipline, you know. There is no guessing how they feel. Their hearts are on display to speak truth into and to nurture. There’s no boxing up of emotions because they are simply incapable of it.They aren’t afraid to feel big things. There is a beauty in the vulnerability they show.
Blessing #2: As a Parent, I Compare Less
As any parent quickly learns, comparison is the thief of joy. Especially in motherhood. As floundering new moms, the only means we have to figure out if our kid is developing “normally” is by comparing. As dismayed mothers of toddlers, we quietly assess how other mothers deal with tantrums and fits. As busy moms of preschoolers, we quickly notice the skill sets of other children around us. I can only predict that this tendency will grow as kids get older and into school.
I mean, comparison is just something we do, right? We’re human. We can’t help ourselves. While I am not even close to being free from its grip, I can credit my firecracker kid to slowing down the knee-jerk instinct to compare her to others. See, I used to do it all of the time. As a result, I was continually discouraged because, well, she’s a firecracker. She slept less, fussed more, had stronger opinions, didn’t respond to certain types of discipline… you get the point. What worked for most kids just didn’t work for mine.
Slowly, over time, I have come to realize that my daughter is who she is. She does not fit the typical mold and there is no reason to become exhausted sweating over this. I’ve played the comparison game and lost far too much to want to keep playing. Having a strong-willed child has blessed me in that I have given up my game of figuring out where my child lands in comparison to those around her and just embraced that God has made her with the perfect DNA in his eyes. It is my job as a parent to embrace that and do my best to parent who He has wired her to be.
Blessing #3: My Husband and I Have to Operate as a Team
For those who haven’t experienced the blessing of a firecracker kid in their family, allow me to illustrate what happens. They will test-test-test, push-push-push, smell blood and move in for the kill. It’s not uncommon for my husband or me to say to one another, “Need a break?” or “Want to switch kids for a while?” We have been through this enough to know when one parent is starting to lose their bearings. If both parents aren’t on the same page on how to handle the firecracker or have vastly different parenting philosophies, just go ahead and hand the house keys over to the child because they will quickly own you.
I’m obviously exaggerating a bit but an unexpected blessing of a tough kid is that my husband and I have grown to operate well as a team. We have learned the best timing to tag-team. We have had hundreds of conversations problem solving, discussing parenting philosophies, dissecting what works and what doesn’t and simply encouraging each other. We have learned how to have conflict yet maintain a united front in the parenting department. Even though it hasn’t always been a peaceful joyride, we’ve grown closer together through navigating rough waters.
Blessing #4: I’m Less Judgmental
Before I had kids, especially my firecracker kid, I resembled something like this when evaluating parenting around me.
Moms, before I had kids, I judged you. Like, real bad. I vowed to never let my kids do “that” or act like “that” or dress like “that.”
I apologize. Deeply.
I have eaten my humble sandwich and am still licking the crumbs off the plate.
I honestly do think that one of the reasons God has given me strong-willed kids is because I would be prone to judge others. If my kids were compliant and easy-peasy, I honestly think I would be patting myself on the back while offering advice to parents behind and even before me.
In fact, I’d probably be writing posts quite different than this one and likely discouraging and even harming struggling moms even more. I’m so thankful that my children have put me in my place. Similar to comparison, judging is hard to break free from but I can confidently say that I look at the moms and their kids through an entirely different lens. At this point, no act of behavior in public surprises me and when I see you struggling, I just want to come give you a hug and tell you I understand. I’m rooting for you, mamas!
Blessing #5: I Have Learned to Choose My Battles
Learning to pick your battles is nothing new to parents. This is pretty much a universal piece of advice no matter what type of kid you have.
However, when you have a strong-willed kid on your hand, this is even more critical to the sanity of everyone involved. Something as small as, “put your shoes on,” has the potential to snowball into an epic battle between parent and child. In our house, this is what often unfolds: a small request isn’t observed which results in a warning. The warning might be ignored which will result in a timeout. The child might try to exit timeout prematurely which results in even further disciplinary actions. This will likely result in the child becoming extremely emotional. Strong emotions turn into hurtful words or a even a physical response (the curtain next to timeout might have been torn down 3 times–not exaggerating). Now, you’re not only dealing with the shoe issue but all of the acts of defiance leading up to this point. Something so small can so easily blow up into a ridiculous drama that no one wants a role in.
What my strong-willed child (or children for that matter) have taught me is to pick my battles on the important things and to simply let the other small stuff go. I’ve learned that experience is their best teacher–not timeouts. So sometimes this means that their toes need to get cold outside after refusing to wear boots instead of flip flops. They need to lose or break a toy because it wasn’t cleaned up. They need to be a little hungry after refusing to eat or even experience a little isolation after refusing to share or be kind to a friend.
Please hear me. There ARE things worth going to war for. Do not give up your parental authority. These kids NEED that.
However, there are minor things that I’ve simply learned to let go of. Matching clothes–preferred, but optional. Picking up worms–gross, but not worth the battle. Sleeping with a huge plastic horse in your bed–whatever helps you sleep through the night, little one. Eating food off the kitchen floor–again, gross, but whatever. Stomping in mud puddles–I’ll start the next load of laundry.
The wars over these small, insignificant things are not worth fighting in my opinion. If I’m going to suit up and go into battle, it is going to be over something that matters. While I would prefer that my child not draw on their stomach with markers, it’s just not something worth dueling over.
Join Me in Being Thankful
Writing this post has been SO good for me. My heart has softened towards my little rascals and I have found things to be thankful for that I have never acknowledged. If you’ve got a firecracker kid on your hand, I’d encourage you to take a bit of time and articulate reasons you are thankful for them. Dwell on their good qualities and dream about the potential they have in the future. These children are one day going to be really awesome adults.
There is a good chance that these kids are going to be leaders. They are going to be the movers and shakers. They are going to the ones who stand up to bullies, become presidents of clubs, have a huge influence with their peers, ask the hard questions and not be afraid to stand alone when it is the right thing to do. These strong-willed personalities are a blessing to our society and we need them. We don’t want to squash who God has wired them to be. As parents we are in the tricky business of coaching them and teaching them how to filter their fierce personalities in the right direction.
Now only if we can make it through the first five years of their lives…