Overview: I have strong-willed children but I am also strong willed. Are you?!? This post will help you discover if you are also strong-willed & if so, what you can do about it.
My sons are wonderful boys; however, I’ve always known that they were strong-willed children. I have memories of their stubbornness from very young ages. There was the time that my 2-year-old son physically fought me for about 20 minutes because he didn’t want me to put him into his car seat.
There were countless times when I would ask them to do something and they would refuse. Times when I had to pull over the car and discipline them because they wouldn’t stop fighting each other or screaming. Times when they would stamp their feet or clench their fists and look up at me with such a look of defiance. It was heartbreaking.
I remember reading The New Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson and being quite concerned when he said something about how strong-willed children might even need to be disciplined once or twice a month. There were times when it felt like I was having to discipline my boys every hour on the hour! It was extremely frustrating living in our house at times.
I knew my boys came by their strong wills honestly. Especially my first son, who is the first-born son of two first-born children. Poor kid! How do you come out from under a legacy like that?!? And now, as my sons are soon to enter the teen years, their stubbornness has reached epic proportions.
I recently heard an incredibly powerful and convicting talk by Mark Hamby, who is the founder of Lamplighter Books. Mark had some wonderful points that helped me come to the startling revelation that not only were my boys strong-willed; but that I was also a strong-willed parent.
How do you know if you’re a strong-willed parent?
Do you always find yourself:
- Correcting your kids
- Finding fault with their endeavors
- Saying their name in a way that implies disapproval or correction
- Fussing about undone chores
- Acting as though your kids are guilty until proven innocent
- Giving punishments before mercy has been exhausted?
We don’t do these things to try to torture our children or to make their lives miserable.
The way we are going about correcting our children, however, can have more harmful consequences than good. Mark warns that unless our kids see our mercy far more than our judgment, they will never see God. He reminds us that God doesn’t deal with us according to the merit of our sins because if He did, we’d all be dead. God’s mercy is 1,000 times greater than His judgment.
So, if constant correction isn’t the answer, how does God want us to parent our children? After all, the verses which always came to my mind when my boys were young were “Children, obey your parents” and “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
Mark said that Jesus never talked about parenting in the New Testament. As important of a topic as parenting is, He didn’t bring it up – other than telling the story of the prodigal son. In fact, Mark said that there are only two verses in the New Testament which address parenting. He paraphrased them as “Don’t provoke” and “Don’t provoke.”
The first verse is Ephesians 6:4 which says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Mark said that this verse carries the connotation of “Parents, get out of their face – you’re too close.”
The second verse is Colossians 3:21 which says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” The word discouraged means that you are crushing the spirit of your child – deflating or depressing the air out of them until they can’t fight back anymore.
Mark warned that some of us want our homes to be a perfect place so that things will be easier for us. We want our children to obey the first time so that we will have peace. We want to look good in front of others. He said that our children are like mirror images of ourselves. Sometimes we don’t like the traits that we see in our children so we try to lecture or beat it out of them – when we’re the ones who really need to change. Ouch!
The Bad Shepherd
To illustrate this point, Mark told the poignant story of when he and his family decided to raise some sheep. They were given three sheep from a friend and they named them Mary, Martha, and Rambo. Mark wasn’t a real fan of these sheep – and he especially hated Rambo. In three years time of raising sheep, the flock grew from three sheep to seventy! Mark despised being a shepherd. He said that the sheep would run from him as soon as they’d see him. He was constantly having to drag them into the barn. He often had to kick at them to get them to move. He had to drag bales of hay behind him to protect himself from getting head-butted by the rams. And none of the sheep followed him anywhere.
Mark said this was an incredibly difficult time of his life. He had some health issues he was dealing with and the sheep were giving him a terrible time. Mark read every book of shepherding he could get his hands on and he still struggled. He hated the sheep and the sheep hated him.
Mark related that after five years of caring for these sheep, nothing had gotten any better. One night, Mark decided he needed to put the pregnant ewes in the barn because it was close to the time when they would have their lambs. He was trying to drag the dominant ewe into the barn so that the rest of them would follow; but, she struggled violently against him. He said that every time she would see his eyes, she would try to run away.
After struggling with this ewe for awhile, she ended up dragging Mark through a mud puddle. He was so angry that he decided to wash his hands of those stupid sheep. He figured they could stay outside and rot for all he cared. He thought they would be alright outside because the lambs shouldn’t arrive for a few more weeks, anyway. He wheeled around and stalked into the house for the night.
In the morning, Mark said that when he went outside to take care of the sheep he heard loud, frantic baaaaing. It turns out that there had been a violent storm that night with severe rain, sleet, and high winds. He looked into the field and there was a ewe out there with her newly-born lamb laying on the ground beneath her. She was licking her lamb frantically – but Mark could see that it was frozen to death. The desperate sound of seventy ewes baaaaing was ringing in his ears. As he looked around, he could see more and more lambs on the ground. The ewes were trying to revive their pitiful lambs but they had already frozen to death. There were twenty-two dead lambs on the ground. Mark was sick at the sight!
Mark was concerned because his six-year-old daughter loved the sheep. He knew she would be up soon because she would hear the ewes and come out expecting to see the newly born lambs. He tried to gather up the dead lambs and bury them as quickly as he possibly could – hoping to get the field cleaned up before his daughter awoke. He failed. When his excited daughter ran into the field, she was horrified. She looked up at her dad with tears in her eyes and said, “Daddy, you’re not a good shepherd!”
Those words hit Mark’s heart like a ton of bricks. He wasn’t a good shepherd. Here he was trying to drag the sheep, kick the sheep, berate the sheep, and they were struggling against him. No wonder they ran whenever they saw his eyes! How often do we exhibit this same type of behavior when parenting our children?
→ Related Content: 8 Tips for Parenting a Strong-Willed Son
The Good Shepherd
Mark said that he determined he would never let a tragedy like that happen again. Sheep have lambs every five months and he decided that even if he had to live in the barn, he was going to do everything in his power to be sure those lambs would be born safely. He was willing to do whatever it took to try to erase the pain from his daughter’s face.
When the next lambing season was upon them, Mark was true to his word. He was in the barn helping the lambs to be born. His daughter was by his side, watching the miracle of birth over and over. At one point, a tiny lamb was born limp and it wasn’t breathing. The ewe was trying to lick her baby to rouse it but her efforts weren’t doing any good. Mark was in a panic as his daughter watched him expectantly. She cried out to him, “Daddy, do something!”
As Mark tried to think of what to do, he remembered that when one of his children had been born, they had had a hard time breathing at first. He remembered the nurse using a rubber syringe to suck the fluid out of their mouth and throat to help clear their airway. Mark didn’t have a syringe so he grabbed the lamb in his arms, stuck its snout in his mouth, and sucked all of the junk out of its nose. The lamb started reviving somewhat but not completely. Mark looked at his daughter and his daughter looked at him. So he stuck the lamb’s snout back into his mouth and sucked again. A large plug of goo came flying into his mouth and he swallowed it. He said it was the grossest thing he had ever tasted in his life.
Mark’s daughter looked at him and said, “Wow!” She ran up to the house yelling, “Mommy, Mommy, Daddy saved a lamb!”
Mark said he walked to the other side of the barn and all seventy of the ewes followed him. He walked toward the house and all of the ewes followed him. Their eyes were riveted on him. He said that they had been waiting for him to do something to prove his worth as a shepherd – as their leader.
Mark said that our kids are looking for that as well. Instead of yelling instructions out to them from the rear of the pack, we need to be quietly leading them by example. Instead of getting angry at every little thing, lecturing nonstop, and finding fault we need to show them a servant’s heart. We need to do little things for our children without calling attention to it. We need to ask our children what they’d like to do and then do it without grumbling. Hug and kiss them intentionally. We should do little things to show our children how much we love them. Let them see that we love them as a person – not just for what they can do for us.
We all fall down sometimes in our parenting efforts. When we do, we need to give our children sincere apologies. This gives our children a model to follow so they know what to do when they are in the wrong. Sometimes we demand instant apologies from our kids when we really need to give them time to realize what they’ve done. Give the Holy Spirit time to convict your child’s heart.
We need to stop trying to make our children into the kind of children we want them to be. Rather, we need to be a model for them to follow. We need to stop trying to always be in control, trying to force our children to do things, and being in their face. That’s not a Biblical style of parenting.
Why didn’t Jesus talk about parenting? He knew that demonstrating how to do it would be much more powerful than merely talking about how to do it. Jesus was the perfect example of a servant leader. He didn’t lecture his disciples. He didn’t push them from behind. He led from the front. We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to inspire our children to want to follow us. They are worth the effort!
Question: Are you a strong-willed parent? Have you been successful in leading your children from the front? Please leave a comment below.