My Strong-willed Child Comes Into His Own

Nicholas parachute 1
Nicholas helping one of the “Black Daggers” paratroopers pack up his parachute at the local Memorial Day air show.

It’s a beautiful thing to see your child getting his bearings in his own life, getting his feet set solidly on firm ground, and begin to explore.

Nicholas has always been a child with a really strong desire to be close to his parents—close in a physical way. He always wants to be touching me, holding my hand, having my arm around him, kneading my arm with his hands.

It can be overwhelming sometimes, especially during those times when we were entrenched in pitched battles over strong-willed behavior. One of the first revelations I had in the long prayer and discernment over how best to parent this particular child was that the more “strong-willed” battles we had with him, the more he craved affirmation through cuddling, hand-holding, and so on. I knew there was a path forward in there somewhere, but it took a really long time to find it.

A year or two ago, we were at my in-laws’ house, and he woke up before everyone else. I had him snuggle up in bed with me to talk about what it was he needed. I had been thinking about the potential repercussions that excessive neediness could cause in adulthood for him, and I didn’t like what I saw. I knew I wasn’t on track to raise a holy, happy, healthy adult to do good things for God in the world. Emotional health is a really big part of that.

So we snuggled and talked about it. We talked about behaviors, and Christian’s and my frustrations as well as the things I saw in him that had the potential to be really amazing character traits, and I asked him to tell me what it was that most made him feel loved.

He had to think for a minute, and the answer he gave was not the one I expected. It was “time.”

We turned over a new page that morning, although it took a while to recognize that we were, indeed, on a new and better path.

Nicholas Parachute 2At eight years old, Nicholas is interested in many, many things, and his attitude is can-do. He’s been on a three-year rotation trying sports, and he loves them all. Now he’s trying to discern which one to stick with. He’s sounding out tunes on the piano. Some days, he comes home from school with some little note or gift or letter he made for someone he cares about.

He’s really interested in food and cooking, and also in all things Catholic. That latter may just be a side effect of this being his sacramental year—Reconciliation in November, First Communion in April—but I’m encouraging it as much as I can. Same with the cooking. He’s my standard kitchen helper these days. Sometimes I really would rather be left alone to cook in solitude, but generally I invite him in and put him to work. It’s fun to teach him. He’s really willing to try new foods, and he likes most things.

He likes to help me pick flowers from the nursery every spring, and he likes to take Michael outside and play baseball in the back yard. With Christian, he likes to go hit golf balls, or just go run errands.

Most of the time, in fact, he’s a thoroughly delightful child. Which is not to say we don’t have our moments, but there aren’t so many anymore. He still asks incessant questions and they can still be exhausting, but mostly we’re starting to have deeper, more thoughtful conversations about the things he hears about on the news and the choices we’ve made in structuring our family’s life.

And it’s so fun to watch him come into his own.

(Note: Nicholas approved this post for publication.  🙂 )