As parents, we like to tell ourselves we are teaching our children. We’re the mentors, the leaders, the guides, helping shape them into independent and functional members of society. Perhaps it’s our ego that keeps telling us this.
What we hesitate to admit is we’ve become the pupils, and our children the teachers. As I reflect on a few things I’ve learned by parenting strong-willed daughters, I am reminded just how much they have taught me, and how much more I have yet to learn.
Fervently Fight For What You Want
I am regularly surprised by how fiercely my daughters, ages three (Sis) and five (Little), fight for what they want. And, they know what they want! Be it a certain item of clothing, a very specific hair accessory, toy or game they want to play, they know what they want and are prepared to fight for it, and won’t give up easily.
When you know what you want, why not fight for it? Why be a sheep when you can be a lion? No matter the adversary, if you don’t at least try, you automatically lose. And yet, not all battles are worth fighting.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Children kind of suck at this. Really. Choosing our battles is something that comes with experience, and they’re just starting out. Before engaging in any battle, it is wise to stop and reflect just how important is this to you. And ask yourself, are you fighting just because you want to be in control, or because it really matters?
Let’s take the clothing war for example. Little and Sis have very specific ideas of what they want to wear each day, sometimes multiple times a day. Truthfully, I don’t care what they wear as long as it’s weather appropriate, so they get to choose. The other day, Sis wanted to wear a dress, but it was cold out, so I agreed as long as she wore pants and a jacket too. Little also decided this was a great idea. (They looked hilariously adorable.) If I had tried to dictate what they would wear, every item of clothing would have been a fight to get on their bodies, hence why I choose not to fight the clothing battle because it doesn’t really matter to me.
By letting go of the things that don’t actually matter, I have more energy stored up for the inevitable battles yet to come in the day. Like that time we were on a road trip and recently potty-trained Sis developed an aversion to automatic flushing toilets which very quickly morphed into a major fear of all public toilets. When I tried to physically make her sit on the toilet after she’d held it for five hours, she screamed so loud everybody in the gas station could hear. (I’m pretty sure they could even hear her in the parking lot.) No matter what I said, I could not convince her the potty was not scary and it was a nice potty. It was three months before I could convince her to use a public toilet again, and I’m not ashamed to say there were times I held her up so she could pee in the bathroom sink. Which brings me to my next point.
Know When to Admit Defeat And When to Compromise
In the heat of the battle, us strong-willed types have a tendency to dig in our heels and hold the line that much harder. We’re invested at this point, right? With our emotions, our time, our energy. So, we’re in it to win it! Though, I ask, at what cost? I think of all those sibling spats where one child ended up with a knot on the head, bruised ego, or both. Tears ensued because one was a winner, and the other a loser. Yet, can’t we have a little more of both?
Know when to admit defeat, and when to compromise. Sometimes, the best way to win is to concede your line, and find a way to make it better for both parties. Because winning isn’t everything when it means someone you love loses.
Empathy is Powerful in Love and War
Despite compromises and best efforts, some battles will end with a clear winner and loser. When you are the winner, this is the time to play your empathy card. I have found that no matter the age, when someone is upset – even when they are being clearly unreasonable – they’re legit upset. Telling them they’re being unreasonable, stupid, nonsensical, etc. will always make it worse. The phrase, rubbing salt in the wound comes to mind.
Whatever it is that has them upset may not matter to me, and may not matter in the big picture, but it matters to them, and they matter to me.
Even if they’re being unreasonable, in that moment, they don’t need me to tell them that. They’ll figure that out eventually on their own. My strong-willed mother always said, “Most people just want to feel heard.” To feel like their feelings matter, no matter how silly or unwarranted they may be.
Sometimes You Just Gotta Roll With the Punches, Baby!
There are times their strong wills take me by complete surprise, and I’m fresh out of empathy. We’ll be trucking along without drama, and suddenly it’s world war three because Little wants a purple hairband, and I only have blue or green in my bag. Gasp! Or I buckle Sis into her carseat to an explosion of, “I WANT TO DO IT MYSELF!” Okay then.
The reality is, you never know what might set someone off – at any age – until it happens. You can’t live your life walking on egg shells trying to avoid making waves. You gotta do what you feel is best, grab onto your boogie board, and ride those waves. You’ll eventually make it to shore.
Strong-Willed Girls Become Strong-Willed Women
As challenging as they can be as children, I’m excited to know them as adults. When armed with confidence and empathy, a strong-willed woman is a game-changer. They are leaders, influencers and world-changers. They will be difficult to pressure into doing things they’re not comfortable with, and will stand up to their peers when it matters. They will take a stand when others can’t or won’t. They’ll speak for those with no voice, and listen when those voices need to be heard.
Someday, maybe. But for now, they still need to wear warm clothes when it’s cold out and eat their vegetables. Because why? Because I said so, and I am mother. They will hear me roar.
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