Another morning, another battle of the wills. On your left, a nearly two-year-old boy with the ambition and determination of the young Muhammad Ali. On your right, a tired, frustrated, and no-patience mama (that's me). The battle? What to wear this morning. The ring? His bedroom.
It's 28 degrees outside on this frigid January morning, and my son wants to wear shorts. Not just any shorts, but the same orange and navy plaid shorts he insisted on yesterday and the day before. I keep trying to hide these damn things, but he finds them. He's like Houdini. His magic knows no bounds.
After the usual back and forth for what feels like eons: me mentally reciting what my parenting books tell me… positive redirection, offering choices, seeking input, blah blah blah, I cave yet again. “Fine, wear the freakin' shorts!” I cry out, nearly in tears. He looks at me smugly (can a two-year-old even feel smug?) and lifts his left leg up for me to put them on. It's another TKO in less than three rounds. My son remains the undefeated champion.
My son is perhaps the most strong-willed person I've ever met. And I'm grateful. Maybe not in the midst of our daily battles over what utensil to use, whether or not a jacket is in order, and which direction to cut the fruit. But in my non-mommy life, the one where I'm constantly seeking reassurance, afraid of ruffling feathers, and bending over backwards to please others, I am glad he is my polar opposite.
Call me weak-willed; I've spent my life trying to avoid conflict and play the peacekeeper. I rarely offer up opinions or arguments, even when sought out. My husband says getting ideas out of me is like pulling teeth, because my response generally resembles, “Whatever works for you, babe.”
These traits can be good for friendships, office dynamics, and even family gatherings. But they can be debilitating too: I often miss out on things I truly want, I tend to leave conversations feeling like I could have offered so much more, and I commonly lose sight of my personal goals and desires, because I'm prioritizing other things and trying to keep people appeased.
Perhaps this comes from being a middle child. Or maybe it's because I'm a woman who's spent her life struggling with self-confidence. But this is who I am, and it works well for me now. I have a successful career, I married an amazing man, and now we have a loving, beautiful family.
But I have to wonder what could have been. If I was more dog headed, and didn't let anyone or anything get in my way, where would I be now? What could I have achieved? Perhaps my greatest weakness will become my son's greatest strength.
Being strong willed will no doubt bring about a whole new host of challenges for my son. I imagine we will have to teach him conflict resolution at an early age. I envision many disputes and bickering with his future little brother. And I can literally feel the hair on my head fading to grey with each tug of war we play over getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating, going outside… and that's just the stuff before noon.
But I am so grateful for my strong-willed child. My son will make his opinions heard. He will speak his mind. If he uses it the right way, he could move mountains. He will do things his mama never could. He will push past the naysayers and bullies, and will overcome the barriers that I could not surpass.
There's nothing easy about raising a strong-willed toddler, but I wouldn't change this for the world. It's on me to teach him the strong values and skills he needs to thrive, but when he does get into the boxing ring – the real ring of career, life choices, passions – while I am and forever will be a follower, perhaps my son can be one of the leaders.