There are many adjectives that I can think of to describe my oldest daughter. Challenging. Difficult. Demanding. Exhausting! Apparently, she is not the only one of her kind. Fortunately, experts have come up with a nicer word for this type of child, “strong-willed.” And it fits!
On my daughter’s second birthday, a friend of mine so generously gifted her with a darling (and ridiculously expensive) Burberry dress. ?I loved it! My daughter did not. Despite my best efforts to put her in that dress, it never happened.
I tried being stern. “you don’t have a choice.” Didn’t work.
I tried being sweet. “I would love for you to wear this dress to show your appreciation for this most thoughtful gift.” Nope.
I even tried wrestling her into the dress, which briefly worked, until I came across it, moments later, hidden underneath our couch as she skipped through the house in only a diaper and a look of sheer joy.
My mother suggested that I give her options, to offer her a sense of control over the issue. I figured that I’d give that a whirl, and I picked the most unappealing alternatives to choose from; a scratchy sweater, crushed velvet overalls, it didn’t matter she?never?chose that dress.
This “defiance” only increased with age. At four years old we entered the world of bedtime battles. My nights were spent intercepting her attempts to sneak out of her bedroom. This left me frustrated and sleep deprived, and feeling like a failure.
Being a mother with ADHD did not help matters much. Creating structure and routine was always a struggle for me. My daughter thrived on consistency. ?She also needed to know what to expect. Whenever we left the house, she needed to know exactly what the plan was. Where are we going? What time? How long will be there? And after that? Listen kid, I haven’t even decided what shoes I’m wearing yet, I can’t even begin to think about something that will take place four hours from now! This usually left us both very anxious.
At her parent-teacher conference in second grade, her teacher told me, “Well, you don’t ever have to worry about anyone telling that girl what to do! She will not be one to succumb to the pressures of her peers.”
Throughout her school years, she negotiated with teachers, she went to class early to clarify assignments, she emailed them at ungodly hours to question their decisions on her grades, or to question why the grades had not been posted in what she considered, a timely fashion. She drove these poor educators crazy. But at the same time, they admired her determination.
There were times that I thought I was going to throw her out our second floor window. I was demanding respect and she was demanding explanations. “I am your mother, damn it! I don’t owe you any explanations!” She would not back down. At any cost. There were times that I got so frustrated and angry with her, that I had to physically remove myself from her presence to prevent myself from doing or saying anything regrettable. I locked myself in my room a few times, only for her to follow me and stand outside my door, knocking and demanding to know why I?was behaving so irrationally! Lord. Give. Me. The. Strength.
She had no problem throwing me under the bus either. At large gatherings, when most children were playing together away from the adults, or even in the presence of adults, but oblivious to their adult conversations, my daughter would be right there next to me, hanging on to my every word. I remember one time, I was talking with friends about our relationships, and I mentioned how great it is that my husband and I really never argue. (we don’t) My daughter looks over at us and says. “That is NOT true! Just yesterday you told him to never ever talk to you again. Remember? And then you slammed the door.” (well, there was that one time.) Thanks Kid.
Needless to say, my patience has been tested, pretty much continuously, for the past 17 and a half years. I had to learn how to parent her in a way that would not break that tenacious spirit, but also ?in a way that would not allow her to cost me my sanity. I had to learn to choose my battles. I had to give her the trust and the freedom to make a lot of her own decisions. I had to show her respect when I really just wanted to show her the door. Don’t get me wrong. She had rules and when the rules were broken, there were consequences, but in order to give her what she needed to thrive, I had to give up the notion that she should?and?would?obey whatever I asked of her, just because I am the parent and she is the child. Instead of asking her why she can’t just “go with the flow” I learned to try to offer her clear explanations of all the whys? and whens? and wheres? ?I realized that it was important for her to know what to expect.
And now she’s all grown up. She is in her last year of high school. Her forth and final year as a varsity cheerleader. Her final year as a member of student council, national honors society, and french club. Her last year as my little girl.
As I watch her writing her college application essay, I am in awe of how much she has grown. Her stop-at-nothing, stomp-her-feet, persistence helped her to plow through AP physics, biology, and chemistry, and led her to the discovery that her life’s calling is medicine. Her refusal to conform made her impervious to peer pressure. Her relentlessness has enabled her to succeed at anything she puts her mind to. My bull-headed, seemingly impossible, stubborn little girl has grown in to a fiercely loyal, unwaveringly determined, incredibly strong young woman, who will undoubtedly change the world.