Over the course of my daughter’s four short years of life, I have undoubtedly called / labeled her “strong-willed”. I find I do so when she inserts her will, her voice and her way. Am I alone, I venture to say I’m not. Why? Because as parents when our child projects their will onto us we naturally (get triggered) and become defensive and sometimes feel powerless. We lash out with our roaring egos of power, control and authority and unconsciously break the spirit of our children when all they are doing is showing us who they are at their core. We call it “defiance, manipulation, bad behavior, strong-willed and stubborn”. We insert our will right back and show them “who’s boss”. Our body language reflects it. Our tone of voice commands it. Our behavior mimics it as our own inner-child (tantrum) shows up. We don’t like the way it feels, we are the ones that are most uncomfortable and we want to control the situation so these feelings go away (for us). And so it goes … the vicious cycle and patterns our children learn to navigate through and ultimately protect themselves from (hence the creation of their ego) which shields their authenticity.
Does this sound at all familiar to you? The latter are very common behaviors that reflect a thread through that of traditional parenting. Yet the teachings of conscious parenting that Dr. Shefali Tsabary so brilliantly reminds us of is anything but from this mindset. Instead, conscious parenting asks us to pause, give space to that “feeling” we are having and find the lesson to be learned in that moment that our child is bringing to us. Conscious parenting invites us to accept our children for who they are but only when we can accept ourselves first. And it brings forth the opportunity to ask “what about this moment is triggering me, is mine to own and not my child’s to receive”?
I continue to hold gratitude in my heart for these wonderful reminders that I have been embracing (over the past year) and had I not opened my heart and mind to taking a more conscious parenting approach with my child, I believe my parenting journey would have brought upon more (power) struggles for both of us.
Nevertheless, I believe we all have a strong-willed fiber within us and we have the ability to view this from a positive (engaging) vantage point as opposed to a negative (disengaging) one. Through generations, we have been conditioned to mask our feelings, emotions and all that lies at the root of our being. We have been made to believe that it is “bad” to speak up, say how we feel, stand for what we believe, disagree with others. We have been “shut up”, ignored, made to feel less than and ultimately distrusting of our inner voice. So when our children reflect to us their “strong will”, we automatically label it is as “wrong and unacceptable”. Here in lies the reality – our child’s strong-will is part of their authentic being, just as it is ours, and comes without any intention or malice to do or be wrongful. They are showing up as they are and if we don’t stay mindful their spirit can quickly turn into “ego” form (just as it has for us) and the unconscious pattern will carry on.
So how does one parent a strong-willed child with a more conscious mindset? I offer no perfect strategy however I have discovered a few ways that have worked for us, all while incorporating a conscious parent approach, that you may find helpful too:
- When she does not back down and wants what she wants … I attune to the situation at hand and ask myself “Is that she wants an unreasonable request?” “Is her demand going against my agenda / need?” “Is this a teachable moment for both us to connect better and allow me to help her better understand the boundaries / limits”?
- When she continues to negotiate … I listen to her request and allow her to share her point of view / reasoning for (this provides empowerment and the ability to trust that her inner voice matters and counts).
- When she doesn’t accept or do something I am asking of her (e.g. need her willingness / cooperation) … I look at the situation at hand and look for the “why”. Is it because of my approach, or that she is not focused on what I am saying? Do I need to connect better with her (eye-to-eye) and to get her attention? Am I stressing out and expecting her to meet my agenda / needs without any compassion for what she is doing in that moment?
- When she talks back, raises her voice and gets in one of her “moods” … I look at what is it about my child’s behavior is mirroring back to me to learn. Is she doing what I do at times? Is she trying to tell me through her actions that she is needing more connection and or space?
By nature, parenting is not easy and I don’t believe the intention to become parents through the Divine work of The Universe was ever meant to be easy. What I have found so bitterly sweet is how the child we receive to nurture, love, guide, protect and teach ultimately becomes our greatest teacher in which we learn how to grow more deeply, intimately and vulnerably within ourselves – and what a beautiful gift we are given for our continued self-growth.
Long live the strong-willed ….