mom of a “strong-willed” child

I sit here and type this with both lips busted and swollen thanks to a gnarly headbutt given to me by my lovely child. I haven’t showered because I know that as soon as I attempt to, both of my kids will have found a way out the front door. This is my second time writing this blog post because I left my laptop unattended for two minutes to use the bathroom and he erased the entire thing. I find it pretty ironic considering what the blog post is about. The strong-willed child. If you’re wondering, “Is my child strong-willed?” then chances are, he/she is not. If you have a strong-willed child, you KNOW. There will be no doubt.

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My strong-willed child is Keylan. Just look at him. He’s so stinking cute. He will be 4 in a little over four months. He loves metal music and headbanging. He loves to make everyone laugh with his boy humor. He loves to get all up in your business. He doesn’t meet a stranger. We have had some MAJOR struggles with learning how to parent him. Sean and I are both really impatient people. I have to say I’m worse than he is, but neither of us can deny it. I am quickly provoked and irritated. It’s something that I really need to work on, but it’s also something that has gotten profoundly better (even though it was worse at first) since Keylan came along. He has taught me so much about patience. Having a stubborn, wild child forces you to confront the way that you react to situations because they learn more from your actions than from your words. Baby Keylan was SO easy. He was sleeping through the night at 2 months old, ate anything you put in front of him, he was so good in restaurants and always got compliments from strangers about what a good baby he was. He would sit in the floor and occupy himself with toys while I cooked, cleaned, or showered. So when his toddlerhood struck, it was a disaster for me.

Back in 2015, I was going through a pretty difficult time in my life. Sean and I had been broken up for a couple of months and I was completely lost on how to keep things as normal as possible for Keylan. Keylan and I were invited to go to a friend’s birthday pool party and I was SO looking forward to it. I so badly needed a day to relax, let Keylan play in the pool, and just chill. Did I get that? Nope. Within 20 minutes of being there, Keylan threw his first real temper tantrum. I picked him up to change him into his swim shorts and he started screaming like a banshee. He was slapping my face and trying to bite me. I was trying to wrangle him and make him stop. My friends were sitting around the patio table staring at me in horror. Just staring. It was mortifying. The whole ordeal lasted maybe 20 seconds, but it felt like an entire year. I just walked away and went to my car, choking back tears. What the heck happened?! My sweet, chunky little baby who got compliments everywhere he went just went freaking psycho on me out of nowhere and I didn’t know what to do. I left there feeling like a horrible parent and feeling like every one of my friends there thought I was a joke of a mother.

Little did I know, that was the start of the longest couple years of my life. Where fits would be thrown constantly over any and everything. A big fat slap in the face called WELCOME TO TODDLERHOOD. Sure, we’ve had plenty of good times but man, it has been a roller coaster. With some high highs and really low lows. From that day, I realized that Keylan’s fits tantrums got worse and worse. There was nothing I could do to make the kid happy. He asks for a glass of water, I give him a glass of water, he cries. He wants to read a story, I turn the page too soon, he screams. I get on to him for something and two seconds later he is back doing it again. There was constantly a mess to clean because he couldn’t seem to keep out of things he wasn’t supposed to get into. Trips to the grocery store were torture because he would scream and cry the entire time. We took him on our family mini-vacation last year to Rock City in Chattanooga. Chattanooga is special to us because that’s where our broken family became whole again. Here I am thinking that he would be in awe at all of the views, trees, etc. Nope. He screamed the entire time. Believe me when I say it was so bad that Sean and I might have discussed ditching Keylan and jumping straight off Lover’s Leap. College students with no kids were giving us go-to-hell glares. Have you ever heard the mom group term POOPCUP? It’s great. It stands for “Parents Of One Perfect Child Under Pre-K”. There were plenty of poopcups giving us the stare down while our two year old walked alongside us screaming bloody murder. I just wanted to stop every single one of them and say, “Dude, I promise I do try with him. I promise I am a good mother who tries my best to teach him.” But I don’t do that. Instead I ignore it, suffer through the outburst, and go home feeling like a crap mother.

I resented every single parent who could go out to eat and have an actual conversation with their partner while their child sat peacefully gnawing on a roll. Meanwhile my child is flinging rolls at the elderly couple seated at the table next to us while my husband tries to intercept. He is screaming because I won’t let him eat the little tub of butter or play with the steak knife. He is trying to stand up in his seat and attempting to pull down our waiter’s tray of drinks/food. He’s yelling loudly about anything inappropriate that his little brain can think of. (Yeah, if you hear the word “wiener” being shouted across the Brass Lantern, that’s probably my kid. Sorry) He is yelling to everyone surrounding us trying to start conversations, so the possibility of having a conversation with Sean is out of the question. It’s not going to happen. He’s asking a million questions that don’t make sense and have no answers and gets mad and refuses to eat when we don’t answer them. Keylan can be perfectly well behaved all day but it’s like as soon as we pass the threshold to a restaurant, grocery store, church, literally anywhere, a switch flips in his brain and he goes into full freak out mode. It doesn’t get any better at home.

There was constantly a power struggle between Keylan and I. He wanted to test my boundaries and I tried to set them and let him know who’s boss. If he yelled, I yelled louder. But I learned fast that that was getting me nowhere. Before Keylan was born, I had expectations of him. I just knew that he would be calm, easygoing, laid-back. I knew that he would listen and let me guide him through childhood the easy way. HAHAH nope. I set myself up for failure. Keylan came into my life like a wrecking ball. He shattered my expectations of what having children was going to be like. He crushed my need to be in complete control. He wrecked my impatient nature and taught me to slow down. The little boy in my daydreams about my first child just wasn’t Keylan. Once I started to embrace Keylan for who he is, I started to learn more about him. What he responds to as discipline, what makes him tick, what is calming to him, his likes and dislikes.

Toddlers are just little human beings who don’t have the skills to communicate their needs in the same way that adults do. They have real feelings and emotions. They wake up in bad moods just like I do. They get ill when they’re thirsty, hungry, uncomfortable… Just like me and you. It was when I learned this and started treating Keylan as an independent human being that we stopped clashing. I mean sure, he still has his moments and I still feel like ripping my hair out at times, but now I am able to help him turn his stubbornness into determination. I’ve heard from so many people, “Give that boy a good butt whoopin’! That’ll straighten him out!” Ha! If only it were that easy. My job as his parent isn’t to intimidate him into listening to me or yell at him in hopes that he’ll finally straighten up. That’s beating a dead horse. It just doesn’t work with him. Strong-willed toddlers don’t listen to it. You have to get on their level. Be mom/dad instead of dictator. Talk to them instead of talking at them. Don’t just bark commands at them but teach them through your actions. I don’t know if every headstrong child responds well to that, but I know for a fact that mine does.

When you’re dealing with a strong-willed child, it can be SUPER overwhelming. If you’re going through the rough stages of toddlerhood, know that it does get better. I never thought Keylan would grow out of the fit-throwing stage. But every day, the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter. He can still be a brat sometimes. He still throws fits every now and then just like every other kid. But he is so much better than he used to be. I am too. My strong-willed little dude taught me how to roll with the punches.
To not expect everything in life to go smoothly.
To laugh during the stressful times.
To control my reactions to stress and chaos.
The universe knew that I needed Keylan around. I’m lucky to be his mom. I couldn’t have hand picked a better child for me.
Even if he makes me contemplate jumping off Lover’s Leap, he’s still the coolest kid I know. I have faith that his stubbornness will one day turn into determination and leadership and that his aggression will turn into drive.

What’s most important to know is that you’re not alone in this. While your child is flinging rolls at elders in a restaurant, mine is most likely screaming at everyone who walks by in Kroger trying to scare them. Don’t ever feel like a bad parent just because your child is a little more on the wild side than most. You were picked to be their parent for a reason. Fight through the Terrible Twos and Threenager stage. Keylan has toned down the wild and crazy so much. Now he cuddles with me and watches movies, plays with my hair, tells me he loves me. He sits with me and plays ABC Mouse and every time we log on, I notice his frustration is handled better. He asks for back tickles and plays with his little brother like a big boy. I’m telling you, it gets better. There’s definitely a rainbow after the early toddlerhood storm ✊

– ASL 💟

P.S. I give like 90% of the credit for making it through the toddler years to Stress Away oil. Diffuse it, apply it to your skin, smell that ish straight out of the bottle. It is SO good and so helpful. Try it. It will seriously become your lifesaver.

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