My Strong-Willed Boy

Colorado Cousins Trip 692 smallFriday was not a good day. I’ve had several months to accustom myself to the idea of my beautiful children turning into sibling monsters who seem bent on pushing each other’s buttons, but Friday they took it to a whole new level. Well, one of them did, anyway.

I’m not sure how it began, exactly…I got involved when Alex hit Nicholas, in response to Nicholas kicking him repeatedly in the back. I demanded they both apologize to each other–something Alex was willing to do, but Nicholas was not.

Apologies are a hard skill to learn, which is exactly why they’re so critical. We all screw up repeatedly, and you can’t just move forward, pretending it didn’t happen. Reconciliation requires apology. Love requires apology.

Anyway, the details would take several thousand words. Let’s just say it escalated, and none of the discipline techniques I employed made the slightest impression. My last ditch effort was canceling the planned outing to the park. I thought the fact that everyone would be mad at him because he caused them to lose their outing would sway him, but it didn’t. He was fine with everyone else being miserable on his account. What he was not fine with was when I decided it wasn’t fair to punish everyone else, and told him we were going to the park after all, and he would sit on the bench beside me while everyone else got to play.

That led to an immediate apology. With requisite hug. Let me tell you, it was a very revealing insight into his character.

We had two more world war N’s before bedtime, but that, really, is the subject on my mind: my third-born’s character.

Somehow, I thought he would follow the same general path as his big brother: around the age of four, he would smooth out into a more or less compliant child who had learned who’s in charge in the house, and could begin to be entrusted with small pieces of the household load. In some ways that’s true, and this is the hardest thing about him: the duality of his nature. He can be so sweet, so delightful–universally so in public, and with non-parental authority figures. At home the delightful side of him comprises somewhere around fifty percent.

But then there’s this other side. The strong-willed, not empathetic side. And frankly, it scares me a little.

I’ve done enough reading, and listening to other moms,  to know that having a strong-willed kid is not all bad. If you can train their minds and hearts in the right direction, they are likely to cause less parental heartbreak in the teen years. Because once they know what they believe, nobody, not no how, not no way, can get them to do something they think is wrong. They are naturally resistant to peer pressure.

But getting there…that’s the scary part. If I could focus on Nicholas the way I focused on Alex when he was going through a similar stage, I would feel more confident of a positive outcome. But we’re toilet training again now. (Unsuccessfully, I might add.) Toilet training a walking tornado who might or might not need speech therapy. While a developmentally disabled big sister is still trying to learn to talk, and struggling to comply with instructions like “pick up that shirt and those pants and put them in the dirty clothes,” to say nothing of …math, for instance.

I still believe the end result of a middlingly-large family is worth the struggle, but the fact is, right now this all feels overwhelming. How can I lead him down the right path–to holiness, to empathy, to respect for the dignity of himself and everyone around him–when he pulls so hard in the opposite direction, and I have so many other lines tugging on me?

I’ve always prayed for wisdom in parenting, but never so fervently as I have begun to do in the last week or two.

Still, I can’t leave you on that note. Nicholas has delivered some real howlers this weekend that I just have to enshrine for all eternity.

“When is Grandma gonna DIE?” he demanded loudly while we were visiting my grandmother, who is recently returned to her apartment after we thought she was near death. Thankfully, Grandma’s hearing is almost gone!

“Now I have a sprained ear!” he wailed after I tried to clean out his ear.

“The little Lego doctor truck…Dr. Feel Bad,” he clarified as he tried to tell me who was racing in his room.