I have said it before and I’ll say it again: those with compliant children can’t quite understand those with strong-willed children. That’s not to say anyone’s job as a parent is easy. Absolutely not. It is to say, however, that there are some things that a strong-willed parent must do that the parent of a more compliant child doesn’t understand and may view as downright harsh. If you have a strong-willed kid, you know what I mean. If you haven’t heard these terms before because you’ve never read the book “The Strong-Willed Child” in an effort to convince yourself you aren’t crazy, you are going to find this harsh. Consider yourself warned.
I tweeted it and mentioned it in passing. Here’s what actually happened…
We were having a fun family evening. Just before dinner, we were playing in the den when something (I can’t remember now what) didn’t suit Brynna’s fancy. As is sometimes her response, she got angry and threw some toys from her kitchen where she’d been playing. She knew before I said it that she’d have to go to timeout, so she wasn’t shocked when I instructed her to go. She did decide, however, that this was one of those days. This was a moment she would assess if Mom and Dad are to be trusted; if they are as strong as they claim to be. So what did my pint-sized wonder do? She turned and gave me that Look – the one where I know she’s about to openly defy me – and said, “no.” The Look is not a sneer or one of manipulation but simply a full-faced, straight-in-the-eye stare that says, “I’m willing to push as hard as I can to see if your boundary is tough enough to hold me.” David immediately instructed BG to apologize. She turned, gave him the same look, and said, “no.” David took her to timeout, explained that we don’t throw and we don’t tell Mommy and Daddy no and walked away.
After the allotted time on the step, David went to release Brynna. He bent down, and asked if we should throw. She sniffed back the tears and said, “no no.” He then said, “We don’t tell Mommy no. You need to say you’re sorry.” She looked him straight in the eye and said, “no.” So back on the step she went. Two minutes later, I went to free the captive but the scene repeated. She fully acknowledged her understanding of the situation and at the same time made fully clear her intent NOT to apologize. Round 3 carried with it the added penalty of a spanking. Round 4 went similarly to Round 2. By Round 5, Daddy headed upstairs to make dinner. Round 6 also included a spanking; Rounds 7, 8 and 9 carried added measures of tears and wailing but still no apology. By Round 10, dinner was ready and I headed upstairs to eat – a bag of microwave popcorn because after 10 rounds that’s all you have the patience to make. Before going up the stairs, I sat on the step and looked at my red-faced little girl. Our conversation went something like this…
Me: Brynna, do we throw?
BG: no, no
Me: Do we tell Mommy no?
BG: no, no
Me: When we act bad and are disrespectful, do we have to say ‘I’m sorry?’
Me: Do you want to come upstairs and eat with Mommy and Daddy?
Me: Can you say Sorry?
Me: If you can’t say I’m Sorry, you have to stay in time out. Do you want to get off the step?
Me: Can you say Sorry?
As I stepped over her and headed upstairs, I said, “I love you, Brynna Bear. I love you so much that I’ll do this all night if that’s what you choose.” I will never be able to prove it and she’d never admit it, but I promise I saw a little twinkle in her eye. There was a little recognition in her tiny spirit that said, “I need to know that.”
So for the next hour, I proved it. In total, we spent over an hour and a half in our standoff on the step. After 3 trips to the potty – 2 of which were an adorable attempt to sneak out of punishment – we spent Round 27 (or thereabouts…who knows; I lost count!) naked because she refused to put clothes back on. After that, we changed into pajamas, marched upstairs and went to bed without reading books and without Minnie Mouse, Baby or the 13 other stuffed friends usually in her bed. As I closed the door to her room, I told her the same thing I had all night and do all day – “I love you.”
The last 5 minutes of the standoff happened in her room. I finally took her out of bed, sat on the floor holding her and we talked it all out from the beginning. I know you’re thinking that by this point she’s not even two years old and had no idea what was going on. That’s the parent in you who doesn’t have a strong-willed child. She finished every sentence I began. No, we don’t throw. No, we don’t say ‘no’ to adults. Yes, we always say we’re sorry. If Daddy hurts feelings, what does he need to say? I’m sorry. If Minnie Mouse acts badly, what does she need say? I’m sorry. (That line got repeated more than the others. We had to ensure that the rule applied for everyone – Aubie, Other Minnie Mouse, Baby, Frog and Wombat) Did Brynna act badly when she told Mommy no? Yes. Should you say sorry? Yes. Can you tell Mommy sorry? No.
Finally, after almost two hours and a repeat of the above conversation three more times, she buried her face in my chest and said, “Mommy, sorry.” We then went downstairs for some food and a cup of milk and it took another 5 minutes to tell Daddy sorry. But she did it.
It was never about the words “I’m sorry.” A dozen times a day she does what she shouldn’t or forgets to apologize. It wasn’t about breaking her spirit. I never, ever want to do that. It wasn’t even about asserting authority. She knows who’s in charge. It was about assuring Brynna that no matter how hard she pushes, the nets are sturdy, the fences are secure, the people in charge are strong enough to trust.
Harsh, crazy or exhausting as it may be, she knows that. And harsh, crazy or exhausting as it may be, that’s my job. To make sure that my very strong little girl becomes a a very strong woman.