Parenting Your Tough Cookie

“He’s stubborn, like his Mama.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have said these words about my older son. Stubborn, spirited, contrarian, strong-willed, a future leader, a tough cookie. Pick your label.

He’s not the kid to whom you can just say “I have something fun for us to do today! We’re going to ride the train at the mall!” Or “Look honey, here comes the ice cream truck, let’s check it out!” “I picked up a new Dora library book. Come sit with me and I’ll read to you.” Always met with a hefty portion of toddler suspicion and a flat out NO. And these are activities kids are supposed to like. Let alone the stuff they don't like. The stuff that creates the predictable toddler resistance shared by the entire 1-3 year old demographic. First haircut. Sitting on Santa’s lap. Dear sweet lord baby Jesus. This little guy would have rather we torch his cherished lovie in front of him than go through that torture again.

As first time parents, my husband and I have had much to learn, about our roles in general, and about this little boy (now 5) in particular. It’s taken me longer than I care to admit to adjust my own expectations of how to “get” him to do anything. The formula of saying: “I thought of this cool thing, and you should do it. Come here so you can do it now”, is ineffective (massive understatement). Even with a genuine, cheerful, loving Mommy voice – nada. Zip. Zilch. Waste of time. I’m not gonna lie, this has driven me Up. A. Wall. The child stonewalls us, every time. As Dana Carvey as Bush Senior says “Not gonna doit. Wouldn’t be prudent.”

Through trial and error (and error and error and error), I have learned that it must be his idea! That's been his personality all along. Nobody likes being told what to do, but a strong-willed kid like him finds this unbearable. It must be his idea. Duh, woman. Doing a puzzle. Watercolors. Sharing with his brother. Feeding the cat. Flying a kite.

A far better formula is: I start doing said activity, see what happens. And what happens is he quietly watches, cautiously asks questions, and inches slowly over to me on his own sweet time. Or doesn’t. Whatever.

When I drop the pressure I was putting on him, he might just up and do it on his own. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.

Hello…. potty training. The quintessential example of parents wanting their children to do something. As I learned when I was first learning the beauty of Oh Crap Potty Training, the trick is teaching your child to make going to the bathroom his idea. Make it his idea. Drop the pressure. Yes, Yes, Yes!

Practice makes perfect, Mamas. Your child is learning the glorious lifelong skill of potty training, but WE have to learn the skill of letting the kiddos decide it for themselves. Even after I considered Tyler potty trained, I was still badgering him. Still stressing. Still disappointed if he refused. “Don’t you have to pee? It’s been 3 hours. Are you sure? Go Pee!” Old habits die hard.

I have to remind myself of this lesson every day. As any parent moves forward on the journey, we become the expert at our child. That’s what makes them ours. Whether you have a tough cookie or not, you know your kid. Whether you are living the vision you had of parenting, or more likely a new version you had to adapt to, you know your kid. This one is mine – he’s gonna be an awesome adult one day. And yes, he has been known to fly a kite.

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© 2017 by Sarah Grover