Tales from the brink

I’m starting to think it’s possible that I have a strong-willed child. The term has been rattling around in my head for a while now, planted by several “challenging” weeks we’ve had since September. Things will be moving happily along, me and my little blonde buddy, and then, bam! Some kind of switch flips and we have a truly awful, push-me-to-the-brink, marriage-threatening, sanity-threatening, hang-my-head-at-bedtime kind of day. Or several. Even a week or two. Unlike all the wonderfully patient, selfless mothers out there, I do not handle this well. I’m patient to a point and then suddenly, without warning, I go a little crazy. I yell and sometimes scream and threaten and hate my life and wish I could just walk away and not come back. I think about what a bum deal this parenthood thing is. You imagine a cuddly baby, a little life to nurture and influence and inspire to good, and end up with a raging, wild, intractable, wailing beast who wants to oppose every idea, suggestion or action before you have time to think it.

Case in point

I’m not sure how one goes about diagnosing a strong-will, but here are some dispassionate observations of my recently-turned-three-year-old daughter in the last week or so:

1. She is hungry for crackers and cheese until I prepare them. Then she is hungry for toast.
2. When she wants something, she will ask for it repeatedly, even if I’ve said no. By repeatedly, I mean a minimum of 45 times, and that’s a good day.
3. Saying, “Clare, don’t do that,” is somewhat like assassinating the Archduke of Austria. Just watch what happens next.
4. Breakfast. Her response to the warm plate of fluffy scrambled eggs I set in front of her? “I don’t yike that, and I’m not going to eat it.” End of discussion.
5. Her hair must be done in “princess braids” daily (so named last year when she refused to wear them). Just TRY to do a “princess ponytail.” She will rip it out of her hair with two pudgy little hands faster than you can blink. Unless it’s ballet lesson night; then a ponytail is fine.

Thankfully, these dreadful weeks aren’t all that frequent. They usually happen when she’s brewing a cold or behind on sleep, and otherwise she’s an agreeable, even pliable, little girl. But my mom did pick up a copy of James Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child for me the other day. Just saying.

What makes good soil ‘good’?

After these ruminations over the last few months, my ears perked up in the sermon this morning when our pastor, Carey Nieuwhof, mentioned the title of that very book. He said it in the context of the parable of the sower: some seed falls on the path (hard-heartedness), some falls among weeds (anxiety) and some falls on good soil where it produces an abundant yield. And what makes the good soil good? His suggestion was that it is “surrender-edness,” the state of having a will surrendered to God and his work. And then it hit me. I am a strong-willed child. My poor little one comes by it honestly, genetically even. It is so hard for me to yield to God, and suddenly I see myself in her bad-day, three-year-old behavior:

1. I receive God’s gifts with skepticism, often dissatisfied because of another coveted something, real or imagined.
2. I have trouble accepting “no” as a legitimate answer, and I certainly don’t accept it with grace.
3. A prohibition, even a divine one, can be like a challenge.
4. I would often rather walk away than hear reason.
5. When things don’t go my own irrational way, I react. I rip out that proverbial ponytail by the roots, even if it hurts me.

Unfortunately, this revelation about myself did not come with a corresponding handbook on parenting. But isn’t it said that knowing is half the battle? I wonder if the mysteries of parenting this child are illuminated somewhere in the struggle to submit myself to God. I wonder – and not for the first time – if she, my most treasured gift, is also my crucible. At least as long as she’s in the terrible three’s. 


  • Emily Cramer

    Emily Cramer grew up in the Toronto area and spent most of her twenties living nomadically. She completed her English B.A. in New Brunswick (1999), burned through some existential angst in eastern Ontario and in Scotland, and finally wrapped up a Master’s in Christianity & the Arts in British Columbia (2008). She now lives in Barrie, Ontario with her husband and daughter, where she works as a college Communications teacher and hopes to stay put, at least for awhile. She has been privileged with a number of writing opportunities over the years, such as a summer newspaper column on the natural environment and a novella for her graduating thesis, and is now feeling honoured to be able to explore the next leg of her travels - parenting and family life - with the CC.

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