Saturday, November 19, 2005

These past few days have been a whirlwind. Yesterday, play group was scheduled for a house down the ended up being switched to our house, so combined with all the other happenings of the past few days, this has been a busy week...nonetheless, I want to share some thoughts I have had over the past 48 hours, so bear with me...even if my thoughts are somewhat scattered.

Yesterday afternoon, for a bit of respite from craziness, I toted the kids off to a fabulous new library down the road, set them up on the indoor climb-on train, and sat down to skim "The (New) Strong-Willed Child", by James Dobson, a book I have been needing and meaning to read now for, well, actually, 3 years. For those of you who have happened to mosey on by the Helms house... or even talked with me on the phone since I have become a mother, the fact that I have a strong-willed child is no surprise to you, and something you have doubtless picked up through your own observations of our family. I have known since infancy that my precious three year-old daughter is strong-willed. And when I say strong-willed, I mean will of the iron variety. Unbending, unyielding, tough.

Having experienced raising two little ones now through the first year, the differences between my first-born (strong-willed), and my second-born (easy-going) are quite amazing. At age one, Anna, like any toddler exploring boundaries, would throw things to guage my reactions to her behavior. Often, the object she threw would be her sippy cup. My reaction would be ,"Anna, no, no. Pick it up". And she would refuse. So I would spank her hand and repeat my instruction. And she would again refuse, prompting the spank on her hand again. This cyclical pattern could repeat itself easily 5-10 times before Anna was beat. And then producing a "sorry" could often take as many times of discipline too. Interestingly, the same sceanrio played out with Josh goes like this: Cup is thrown in anger. I say, "Josh. No, no. Pick up your cup". He will shake his head, receive a spank on the hand, cry with big tears streaming down his cheeks, fetch his cup, come back to me for a cuddle, and say 'sow' (sorry)'". The differences in temperament and response boggle my mind- because these are both my children, genetically similar, same parents, etc. I know we are a little wiser and more AWARE with raising Josh, but gosh, inherent personality is some strong stuff.

Anyway, for Pat and I...actually probably for me more...the hardest, most trying part of the journey of raising a strong-willed child has been dealing with and processing the devastatingly hurtful things people have said to us, or worse, have said about us to one another. Raising a sinful child in a sinful world is tricky no matter what the case- but throw an unwieldy temper and irrationally powerful pig-headedness into the mix, and you are looking at some tough years of mommyhood. Dobson had some good things to say to me yesterday, having made his life's work the study of children and families. God knew I needed to hear them.

Number 1: It is very common for Moms and Dads of stong-willed children to feel great guilt and self-condemnation. They are trying so hard to be good parents, but the struggle for control that goes on day after day in the house leaves them worn out and defeated. Their visions of pajama-clad angels reading books by the fireplace have been replaced with realities of battles over which pajamas to wear and which books to read.

Number 2: Parents of compliant children do not understand their friends with defiant youngsters. They intensify guilt and shame by implying "If you would raise your kids the way I raise mine, you wouldn't be having these awful problems".

Both of these numbered points ring so loud and true in my mind, I can hear the sound! Yesterday, was a therapeutic time for me. I have walked through some of my hardest beginning moments in parenting alone (having kids before any of my close friends), and to read that the doubts and anxieties I have had are normal (even statistically proven!) made me feel really comforted and in a large way, supported.

Okay, so my conclusions as I process everything I am learning while parenting my sweet Anna (by God's grace her spirit is slowly becoming sweeter and gentler). At the end of the day, God gave me Anna not only for her good so that I could spend my life loving and nurturing her, but He gave her to me for my good as that I could learn LOVE in its truest most Biblical form- patient, kind, not easily angered, enduring, hoping, never-failing. So that I could learn to pray, the kind of praying that only parents do...the begging, pleading, sneaking in the room in the middle of the night to pray over your child kind of praying. And so that I could glorify God. Because who really stops to bow down and worship God for the things that are natural and easy? But when you witness the seed of the gospel starting to root in your angry child's heart, and when you see the faithfulness of God raining down from the sky, despite your imperfect parenting and your many, many mistakes, then you just glorify God. Because that is all that you can do in a situation so miraculous.

Those of you reading, I would appreciate your prayers whenever you think of us, for my children, especially Anna. She is a handful, but if (and I trust, when) her heart changes, she is going to be a darn stubborn little fighter for the Lord. But please pray her into that place. And pray me into a place of grace and daily wisdom as a mom. I appreciate it...and Anna will one day too....


At 12:58 PM, Blogger Susanna Rose said...


Don't feel discouraged! Your Anna is really growing I notice and as you say, her stubbornness will be a great strength as well as a weakness. We all love her and have every confidence that she is going to continue to blossom into a beautiful person with lots to offer...both inside and out, she'll be a knock out!(=

P.S. Great she playing dress up or is it Halloween? So cute as always!

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous bchallies said...

Maryanne,Thanks for sharing your mother-heart. Your little ones are coming along very nicely. We do love them!

At 3:35 AM, Blogger Tim Challies said...

"This cyclical pattern could repeat itself easily 5-10 times before Anna was beat."

That is the funniest thing I've read all morning. Though I suppose I did just get up. Still, since you just spoke about spanking her hand you may want to revise that particular sentence.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Corrin said...

You have always had my prayers and will continue to have them. You are a great mother and I am so glad that I have been able to watch you parent. I get to learn from you before I ever have to do it myself. Watch out for those library won't have a library left you can go to soon :)

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad a read this. I have a very strong-willed 4 yr old daughter. I definitely at times feel overwelmed and very discouraged. I do hope and pray as well that my little Taylor will some day be as strong-willed about Christ our Lord.

Thank you for sharing, Anne

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have a 4 year old and yes it can be trying and hard and very difficult and by the end of the day I feel as if I have run a couple of marathons but what i do find very strange and odd is calling your child " sinful"? a 4 yr old does not know or understand sin, they are just trying to work out people, the world and its boundries -its not easy but surely to god its not sinful, I actually find that really offensive to say about yr child, its almost as if she needs fixing!

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Hannah said...

We are parents of four, all raised in the same home and in the same manner, with the same kinds of discipline - the three year old is completely different form the rest. So head strong he often leaves me in tears at the end of the day. I know exactly what you are talking about!


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