7 lessons I learned from having “difficult” children
Parenting isn’t just about teaching our kids. Often they actually teach us.
Stubborn. Categorical. Obstinate. These are just a few words I would use to describe my children.
And although it may seem that I am negative – after all, these traits are not sound admirable – I am not. I love and adore my children.
I am proud to have difficult children.
Of course, this may sound strange. After all, raising rigid, willful children is a challenge.
My 18 month old refuses to sleep and says no constantly. He waves his finger in the air and throws his 20+ pound body to the floor. And my 7-year-old can throw a hell of a tantrum. She is emotional and empathetic. She wears her heart on her sleeve.
But being vocal, outspoken, determined and stubborn is not a disadvantage. It’s a strength — now and in their future — because it will empower them.
It will help them be strong, confident and have a voice.
Here are seven lessons I learned from my difficult kids:
Growing up, I was kind of a meek, skinny kid. I was calm and soft-spoken. I rarely raise my hand in class.
I went with the crowd, not because I wanted to, but because it was easy. Because I was afraid of confrontation.
I walked the streets and hallways with my eyes downcast. As I passed people, I whispered things like “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” but no “hi”. Never “hi”. The reason? I felt guilty for existing. I apologized for most of my actions as well as perceived apprehensions.
But my daughter doesn’t do that. At all. And she teaches me to do the same. Through his actions, I am learning to apologize less and speak up more.
When people ask me who or what I want to be when I “grow up”, I say my daughter because it’s true.
She is strong, intelligent, powerful and confident. She is his authentic self.
She also knows what she wants: to do, to eat, to be. And it’s inspiring. She embraces the clumsy. She laughs loudly and shamelessly, and thanks to her, I learn that it’s OK to take up space and be myself.
My daughter got together with some freshman friends last week for a play date, and to say they had a blast was an understatement. They sang. They danced. They ran, played and swam. But when a friend of hers suggested she play a game, my daughter shrugged. She said no.”
Why? Because she didn’t feel it. She didn’t want to, and instead of causing a problem or a problem, my daughter and her friends just moved on. They found an activity they could all enjoy.
Do I expect this to always be the case? No. She can’t and won’t always get what she wants. But I’m proud of her for speaking up. To have an opinion and not be afraid to express it or use your voice.
An unexpected lesson I learned from having willing children is the art of negotiation. Why? Because having kids who are determined, stubborn, and fiery taught me how to handle tough situations with poise, grace, and yes, a bit of cunning.
He taught me how to debate and the art of negotiation. And having difficult kids reminded me that I have to pick my battles and let the little things go.
Although it is difficult to have difficult children, my son and daughter taught me to stop and take a break. How to take a step back and how to breathe, slowly and deeply.
Things don’t always go as planned when you have stubborn, willful children.
My daughter, for example, avoids dinner most nights and my son wakes up most nights leaving me with cloudy eyes and sleep deprived. But because he’s awake, I’ve learned to appreciate the moonlight and look at the stars. I had time to read and write and watch “The Office” on repeat, and I had plenty of mother-son cuddle time, which I treasure.
If you have a willing child, know this: they will always be willing. You cannot delete or modify them. It’s part of who they are.
But their behavior can change you, in a wonderful and unexpected way. Just be flexible, be patient and go with the flow.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including The Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy, to name a few. When her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater than: disease, a non-profit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health issues. Follow Kimberly on Facebook Where Twitter.