As parents we all have had visions of what parenting would look like. We may have even envisioned some frustrating moments to add a dose of reality to our cotton candy-clouded fantasies of raising children. What we were helpless at doing was predicting the exact character traits and circumstances we would rear our children and rehearsing the feelings that we would experience with them. In parenting my three amazing sons I have experienced emotions that range from intense joy, love, frustration, and anger.
In this journey I have experienced some very heavy moments that have rocked me to my core. Parenting each of my guys poses different challenges that varies with each stage of life. One of my sons that I have been blessed to parent is a very deep feeling, emotionally-charged, headstrong child. As he wrestles and strives with himself and everything that comes with growing up into manhood he has given me some of my greatest lessons as a human being through parenting him.
As I write this blog post my heart contains mixed emotions. I cast no shame upon him as his journey is incredible and at times tremendous for himself and for me as his parent. At the same time I am learning not to cast shame upon myself. As a mom it is almost second nature to self-judge and critique myself harshly. That shame, that so many of us face, says that I am a failure as a mom. It says that any imperfection my sons have is a direct result of my ineptness as a person. And so for all of us I lean into this shame and face its untruth.
Parenting is one of the most beautiful experiences and at the same time one of the most painful. Just as our children show us the sunny, shiny, sparkly sides of who we are they also show us the unhealed shadowy sides of who we are. If these moments of revelation are embraced we can grow in boundless ways. They are our children and our teachers.
I have learned to be present with my feelings and thoughts in moments of frustration.
In the past my screams and idle threats were a reaction triggered by the fear of not being able to control my son’s inappropriate behavior. Here’s the kicker: I was actually the one out of control and doing more harm than good. By understanding what thoughts and emotions are behind my own reactions I get to choose a response that is not triggered by my own feelings of lack of control or any other perceived inadequacies. Anger at times is appropriate but if it comes from a place of fear instead of love it can be harmful. Love is not weak. It is firm, strong and life changing.
The other truth is that we cannot control our children’s behavior. However, we can greatly influence them. Which leads me to my next lesson.
Parenting a strong-willed child has taught me the power of influence over control.
Control breeds power struggles. Power struggles deem that someone must be a loser. In a parent-child relationship if anyone loses, we both lose. Firm boundaries can be set without demeaning a child’s feelings and perspective. I have learned to listen to my son’s thoughts and honor them while holding firmly to no. I have also learned that the greatest influence is being what I teach. Our children are watching even if they rebel or say nothing in the moment.
Don’t take it personal.
I am learning not to take my son’s decisions as a personal reflection of who I am but see them as a part of his own journey. This does not mean I avoid personal responsibility in what I do or have done as a parent. This is owning what is mine to own and growing. At the same time there is the understanding that while there is much inside my locus of control there is much that isn’t:
- I can become more aware in any given moment of how my own triggers influence my parenting.
- I can choose a response that is loving and boundary setting.
- I cannot control every single influencer or how he processes his feelings and the subsequent choices he makes.
- I am his parent guide not his puppeteer.
- He makes his own choices and is responsible for those choices.
Allow him to experience the natural consequences of his actions.
Some children have a difficult time believing that fat meat is greasy. There is an African-American colloquialism that calls a child that has a difficult time listening and following directions hard-headed. And as the old saying goes a hard head makes a soft behind, proverbially speaking. I am not advocating cruelty, but natural consequences that allow him to learn from his errors. Appropriate consequences can teach self-discipline, self-control and personal responsibility.
By not allowing children to reap the natural consequences of unhealthy decisions we do them a great disservice. We take away their ability to learn and be accountable. We also set them up for failure in a world that will refuse to coddle them. Making excuses for poor behavior doesn’t help. We each have a story of pain but in the end we are all accountable for what it is we choose to do. Consequences don’t feel good in the moment and may be inconvenient to you as the parent but in the long run it will be worth it.
I must take care of me in the midst of the crazy.
I absolutely love and adore my son. I love spending time with him individually and collectively with his brothers. I love his mind and personality. AND there are times when I need a minute to regroup because he has gotten on my everloving last nerve. Parenting a headstrong child is a journey that may take us well into his adulthood before he comes to a greater understanding of who he is in a positive powerful sense. Self-care will help me go the distance. Self-care may look like separating myself from my child at times in order to regroup emotionally and mentally. And that is ok. It isn’t ever ok for me to treat him harshly but it it is ok for me to tell him how his negative actions have impacted me and to set boundaries.
Release the moments of pain in order to welcome moments of transformation.
One thing that frustrates my son is for people to hold him to his past when he is making great efforts to change. It is important to constantly see the good in our children in the present moment. Point out when they are making positive decisions. Notice and call to attention their ways of being that feel good to be around. Being strong-willed isn’t a bad thing. It actually can be a great thing. Helping my son see this as a positive trait is important in helping him reframe his thinking and use his powers for good.
Many great leaders are focused and tenacious which is a quality of being headstrong. Those same headstrong traits have allowed my son to build a thriving brownie business as a teen. In addition, understanding that my son’s actions are not solely based on rebellion helps. There are thoughts and feelings behind his actions. Helping him to identify thoughts and feelings without negative self-judgment is a process that can help produce positive change.
In parenting a headstrong child as a single mom there are times when I just do not have the mental strength. It can be beyond overwhelming. This is where my tribe comes in. I don’t always have to be strong. I carry what I can but when the load becomes too great they are there to help me. My tribe includes my family, very close friends, my therapist, his therapist and my church.
It is also important to seek out help for your child. I am not ashamed to say that I am strong advocate of therapy. I also believe in the importance of real life mentors as an example of how to navigate life as a young man. Just as I need a tribe. He also needs a tribe for support.
Parenting is a marathon not a sprint. The biggest lesson of all is to release expectations of what it should look like. Being present and aware in the moment has given me the grace to allow my children the individual freedom to grow in theirs and my own imperfections with love and support. When I hold my children to a standard of perfection the driver at the wheel is my ego. I want to be looked at as an amazing articulate powerful superwoman single parent of three perfect articulate amazing young black gentlemen. My perfectly imperfect strong willed child quickly and wonderfully deflates my puffed out chest. I am grateful for the lessons.