Over the years, my older sister has delighted in telling me about what a terrible child I was during the early years of my life. Because she’s five and a half years older than me, she has many clear memories of the performances I would put on for all to enjoy, and of all the ways I gave our parents a workout they could hardly recover from (according to the version she would share with me!).
She felt it would only be just if I would have some strong-willed children of my own, and about how it wasn’t completely fair when we were blessed with Anika, who was the most well-behaved child this world has seen since Jesus was a boy – she wasn’t perfect, but almost. ( And then she got some siblings, and had to start sharing her toys, which brought out a new side to our little angel.)
I used to think it was our fabulous parenting skills that made Anika so well-behaved, but then we had a couple more kids, and I began to see the light. Every one of our children is just wonderful, and dearly loved, but some are more obedient then others. I’ve learned there are all kinds of different personalities, and now I have a greater appreciation for what my parents did for me!
There’s a lot of information out there on how to handle strong-willed children, and I’ve kept my eyes open for all of it, because I’ve wanted to know how to deal with the healthy dose of fiesty we have going on at our place.
But this weekend at a conference, I heard a completely different view point than I’ve ever heard before, and I’m paying attention, because it connects with something deep inside of me.
I went to a session by Sonya Schafer, and she said this:
“Let’s say I decided to go on a diet – no more sugar and desserts. If I went to a friend’s house for coffee, and she put a large, delicious piece of chocolate cake in front of me, would it be considered weakness or strength for me to give in and eat it? We would never say it was the strong choice to give in – we would call it a moment of weakness.”
She went on to explain that it’s a sign of a weakness when a child can’t use self control to make good choices. We all give in to weakness when we can’t make ourselves do the right thing, because it’s easier to give in to temptation.
So instead of describing a child as strong willed, we could also say that they have a weak will – so weak that they don’t have enough self-control to make the right choice.
Same behavior, but different ways of describing it – and Sonya Schafer explained why it makes all the difference in the world. When we see a child as strong-willed, we’re inclined to meet them with our own strength and force: “I will break your strong will!” But when we see the behavior as a sign of weakness, it makes us respond with a desire to help: “I know this is really hard for you, but I’m here to help.”
Instead of seeing it as a battle between us and our child, it becomes an opportunity to come alongside and support our child.
She did such a beautiful job of describing the difference, and I kept thinking about how God supports me in my own weakness. He is so gentle and loving in the way He draws me towards strength and maturity. It’s hard to make that connection and remember it in moments when children are being difficult and testing our patience. But when I think about how I want to he treated in my own moments of weakness, it helps me to have a better idea of how to respond when my “strong-willed children” are having their own moments of weakness.
When it comes down to it, aren’t we all kind of strong-willed? It’s hard to wrestle down these human desires and responses, and we all need the covering of grace!