I have a child who is FIERCE. She is a warrior, a storm. Everything with her is intense, reactive, leading. She is literal, stubborn, serious; she was born ready for a fight and determined to go whichever way she wanted.
I wasn’t prepared for her. I don’t think I could have been.
She exhausts me. She has exhausted me for her seven years on earth. Many times I’ve prayed beside her bed while she sleeps – as a toddler, then a preschooler, then a child – completely humbled and on my knees. I’ve asked God how He thought I was capable of this and how do I parent her amidst the constant power struggles and please don’t let me mess this up because I am her only mother but ohmygoodness she is so far beyond my skill set.
Sometimes I feel like I’m parenting a tornado – I can’t stop it, I can only try to steer it down the least-destructive path. Reduce the casualties. Lead her to an open field and let her winds die down on their own.
But when the winds settle – when things are calm – those are my moments. That’s when I act.
I hug her. I smile at her.
I tell her that I am glad to be her mom and that she is an essential part of this family, that we aren’t complete without her.
I tell her that she is an amazing child who is going to change the world one day. God has given her incredible strength and determination and critical thinking and leadership skills for a reason; it’s a gift. He knew she could handle it.
I tell her that her parents will never stop loving her. Cheering for her. Showing up for her.
I tell her she makes us proud. I comment on the times she spoke kindly to her brother or sister, helped someone, or resolved conflict peacefully (even if it was just the once – she needs to know it was noticed and well done).
Sometimes when the winds are calm I take a moment to do something she likes or just make sure I am really listening and engaged.
I make sure to laugh and smile. Sometimes I have to do this intentionally. I want her to know she brings me joy, not just exasperation.
I was reminded this week that the words we hear about us shape our self-perceptions. I want my daughter to know I think of her as more than “difficult.” She IS more than difficult.
I can use a calm moment to step back and describe the big picture of what I see, round out her perception of herself. She knows she is emotional and defiant, but I need her to also know she is kind, intelligent, clever, resourceful, thoughtful.
As her parent, it is my job to continue the weary battle of discipline and storm-steering. I’m still working on that; it’s ongoing and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I cry. I always try again.
But I have come to see that as only half of parenting a strong-willed child.
And, thankfully, I can do the other half pretty well. I can find a calm moment, an in-between time, and use it to counterbalance a stormy day. I am in control of those times. I use them to tell her who she is and how much she is loved.
To remind her that, yes, she does storm powerfully, but she is just as capable and worthy of sunshine and cool breeze and gentle rain, and she is all of these things to me.