Hundreds of publications have been written about kids who are strong-willed and high-spirited. I’ve read them. Dr. Dobson and I spend lots of time together – him telling me I’m not alone and me searching the pages of his book for renewed strength for what he accurately calls “war.” For those of you with compliant children, I know that seems harsh. I’m sure you think me cruel to consider a trip to the grocery store with my child a war, but let me assure you, war was waged today at Central Market.
I’ll get to the war, but first, I have to explain this phrase that has come to describe my baby girl. Some children are, for the most part, even-tempered. They cry, fuss or cause a ruckus at times, but it in no way defines them. In my new bedside reading companion, The Strong-Willed Child, Dr. Dobson calls these kids “compliant.” Compliant children wish to please their parents and are generally willing to comply to rules and boundaries so as to keep that good-will relationship between the generations. Then there are strong-willed kids. While a compliant child accepts a boundary at face value and stays within it, a strong-willed child challenges every authority, pushes every boundary and attempts to break every rule. It is innately imbedded in their DNA to respect only that authority which they have challenged and deemed worthy. As with any descriptive term, there is a bit of a sliding scale involved. Some kids are more drastically strong-willed, while some push the limits but submit rather quickly.
Brynna has a will and a boldness that would melt most adults. On the sliding scale, we’re bumping up against the dot at the far end of the line. That doesn’t mean she’s not undeniably fun. She just has this internal need to see if I really am as strong as I tell her I am. So many times a day, we battle. And sometimes, we have to fight a war.
Our day started with a fun adventure. Brynna woke up happy and smiley and got dressed with Daddy. Then she and I loaded in the car and met Nay Nay for breakfast. She sang, clapped and talked to passing traffic the whole way there, but as soon as we entered, she didn’t want to play. She wouldn’t talk to Janay at first and tried to climb from her highchair in an attempt to leave. After she and I had a strong conversation in a heavy whisper, she decided it in her best interest to sit on her bottom. As breakfast went on, she warmed up a bit and eventually colored and blew kisses to passers-by.
Battle One – Mom: 1, Brynna: 0
After breakfast, we had a few errands to run. We stopped at Target where we only needed to make a return so had no need for a cart. This did not please the princess, who threw herself to the ground in front of the rows of red shopping carts, blocking exiting shoppers. Another strong conversation was had (this time not whispered) and a leg was spanked. Once again, BG decided it in her best interest to listen and obey, so we made it to Customer Service and completed our transaction.
Battle Two – Mom: 2, Brynna 0
The walk back to the car was fun – we skipped and ran – and then we headed to Central Market. Immediately upon entering the parking lot, Brynna started calling for a balloon (how she knows one grocery store from another is beyond me). Green balloon in tow, we breezed through produce, talked to a friend from church near the granola bars and then made our way to dairy. As I attempted to buy Brie cheese for my husband (I don’t eat it so I get completely confused), Brynna informed me she needed to potty. We hurried to the restroom where she did, in fact, potty like a big girl! Of course her excellent potty skills deserved a dance break, so we danced and giggled in the bathroom and then talked the man at the gelato counter into giving the big girl a treat (aka: M&M). (Sidenote – We spared the nice gelato man the details of why we needed the treat. While I believe in rewarding and praising children, I do not feel the need to discuss bodily functions with strangers.)
Then we got in line to pay. Or as I like to call it, we entered the arena.
I needed to pay for our groceries, apparently Brynna needed to leave. With no warning at all, Brynna decided she did not need to ride in the cart anymore and began attempting to jump the 3+ feet to the ground. She caused such a scene that a woman approached and begged me to be careful as her child had fallen from a shopping cart and ended up in a body cast. While I sensed how serious she was and appreciated her concern, it was not for lack of care that my child was trying to swan dive to the linoleum. It was merely the boundary she decided to push this day. There was nothing Brynna wanted and no reason for her not to sit in the cart. Simply put, she did not want to do what I wanted her to do. And she was willing to give it all 20 pounds of her might to fight me about it. So as the two patrons in front of us rang and paid for their groceries, Brynna and I did head-to-head, no holds barred combat. In addition to trying to leap from the cart, she was kicking, screaming, hitting and flailing. There is a vast difference in a hurt child’s face and what I was looking at. She was not sad, she was mad. She was not crying, she was making a deep-gutteral sound usually reserved for large animals. I tried holding her but her flailing legs almost took out the poor woman behind us, so back in the cart she went. At one point, I had her strapped in and was holding her arms in one hand and a foot in the other. We paid in a similar locked position and walked to the car intertwined. I then wrestled her (literally) into her carseat where she finally calmed down about 5 minutes from the house.
I know you’re thinking what half the store was…”Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with that child?” (Or you were just thinking you’re glad your kid is compliant!) If I’d had a microphone, even though sweaty and frustrated, I would have loved to explain. Instead, I was at war. So here is my response to the sweet patrons of Central Market on Lovers Lane in Dallas:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Brynna. While she appears angry, she really isn’t. She could care less about a shopping cart. It’s not about a cart at all. It’s about who’s in charge. I say I am. She wants to see if I really am. She is simply looking for someone to be strong enough to trust and respect, and until I take my last breath, with everything I have, I am going to prove to her that I am that person. She needs to know she can trust God. She needs to know she can respect the authority He places over her. And it is my job to fight tooth-and-nail to show her just that. I’m sorry our battle had to be in the grocery line today, and I apologize if it disrupted your day. I would have much preferred a calm morning as well. But bigger than my desire for calm is the desire to fight…and win. I will fight Brynna for Brynna. And you will thank me…one day she’s likely to be your president.
War Tally – Mom wins