The Apples That Definitely Didn’t Fall Far From The Tree
My sons want what they want. They have an opinion about what they want to wear and definitely do not, how many carrot sticks they want on that plate. No, actually THAT plate, you know, the dirtiest one at the bottom of the tower of dishes in the sink. My oldest is the kid who needs to be heard and will never, ever run out of things to say. The kid who likes to be first into the bathtub and will crumble if it’s that rare night that his brother gets in before he does. Nine out of ten times you’ll find my youngest on his scooter wanting to go left when the rest of the crew is going right, letting you know how strongly he feels about it as he yells from down the street trying to convince you to follow him. You’ll also find him refusing to have his diaper changed, running away from you as soon as he hears the word “diaper” and contorting his body to avoid the inevitable in a way that leaves you both infuriated and sweaty. So damn sweaty.
While raising strong-willed children can be extremely challenging, it makes sense that I am faced with this task. I know why I am a mother raising strong-willed children and why my cousin with three kids isn’t. I am raising strong-willed children because I am a strong-willed mama who remembers how particular and nuanced it was to be a strong-willed kid. As the saying goes of course, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
I’ll be honest, now that I’m an adult raising my own kids, traditional parenting advice when parenting a strong-willed child makes absolutely NO sense to me. Here’s a kid with conviction and passion and a hell of a lot to say and what does tradition tell us to do? It tells us to silence those voices. It tells us to put up walls when all the kid wants to do is create bridges. This silencing unintentionally discourages our children from trusting their own voices, and then when they reach adolescence we are confused as to why they succumb to peer pressure despite what their heart tells them. Once our kids become adults we also wonder why they struggle so much with confidence, and why they are so painfully afraid to make mistakes. Yet, the expectation throughout life is to “stand up for what’s right,” or “stick up for yourself.” Adults are expected to have clear moral compasses yet leading up to that point morality was blurred time after time after time. It’s confusing to me: how can one have a strong voice when he or she learned to suppress it?
I certainly don’t have the answers when it comes to parenting little versions of ourselves, but I do strongly believe in using our firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be a strong-willed kid to parent our littles from a place deep within our hearts. What is it that you wished your parents understood about those times your will was its strongest? What is it that you wished they heard or knew about you? It’s helped and healed me tremendously to ask myself these questions, and given me an impetus to start really evaluating what values hold most true to me and which ones I want to help guide my parenting, and ultimately pass down to my children. Personally, I want my boys to feel empowered, to feel confident in their voice, and to be able to access resiliency with ease when someone else has a different opinion than theirs. I want them to be able to hear others’ voices while collaborating with others. I hope to validate their ideas and hear their big energetic feelings while teaching them that in any relationship, whether it be with me or my husband, their friends, each other, or themselves, all ideas matter and are important. And in order to give our children these skills, I think it all really boils down to listening.
So how do we find the space and patience to hear our strong-willed kids out while knowing we are leading our families with confidence? How do we give our kids the freedom to be themselves from the start while we’re trying to return to ourselves? Sometimes we don’t find the answers until we stop looking for them, mamas.
Use that mother freaking strong will of yours, that’s how. Use what you already have to get you to where you want to be. Use your persistence and conviction to propel your movements forward if you feel stuck or lost in how to enjoy mothering your little ones more. I know, some days feel SO impossible, right? Use your strong will to allow yourselves to feel what you didn’t as a kid and find someone, whether it be your husband, a counselor, a friend, or me* who will listen as you process the old shit you still carry. Reacquaint yourself with that innate, beautiful, bold part of yourself to fully accept who you and your children are.
Imagine if we could see strong-willed people as leaders instead of fighters. What if we saw conviction as a strength instead of a nuisance? If from the start we raised our children to simultaneously have a voice while hearing others? If we saw persistence as an energy to solve problems instead of an inability to accept reality? If we saw our wills more objectively, just as they are? Would some of the endless power struggles with our kids start to dissolve? Would we feel more clear on which limits to set and when? Would our kids learn to accept themselves and consequently be more accepting of others? Would the practices of acceptance and letting go feel less daunting to us all? And would the world as we know it be a different place?
Maybe, maybe not, but I sure do believe it’s worth wondering about because you mama, are worth wondering about. Just as you are.
*I know that this may take a lot of courage, but I truly want to hear what you have to say and I deeply care about tending to our own strong wills to make parenting our children easier and more enjoyable. We could all use more support and many of us need it now more than ever. If you need someone who gets it to listen without any judgements, suggestions or advice, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you. 💜
Molly Miller is the owner and founder of Bloom Maine, a gathering space coming to the Portland, Maine area where kids can have fun while their grown-ups feel taken care of too. Her mission is to provide our community with more support, places for our kids to thrive and allow families the opportunity to find their village. Molly and her husband grew up in midcoast Maine, made the big move down south and now live in Yarmouth with their two sons, Thomas, 4 and Theo, 2.
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic Bloom’s brick and mortar space opening is postponed until further notice. In the meantime Bloom is supporting parents as they navigate parenting and teaching simultaneously through distance learning and homeschooling. With her MSEd in Literacy and classroom teaching experience in Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade, Molly works with parents to help manage it all through support, connection and play while focusing on educating parents on how to teach their children foundational and lifelong literacy skills.
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