Thursday, June 02, 2011

Deliver Me, O Lord

Deliver me, O Lord... one of the many mantras I've been repeating lately as my precocious two (almost THREE) year old is becoming more and more courageous in how she expresses herself.  Tantrums, her version of cursing (which is rather comical being that she doesn't know any curse words), blatant defiance, and she's even taken a few swings at me.  Who IS this child?

The last few months have been particularly challenging in dealing with this STRONGER side of her personality.  It came to a frustrating crescendo during our recent trip to Florida. Honestly, sometimes I though she was possessed by some fresh-mouthed, wayward little gangster - with quite the potty mouth.  She has been heard to say, "I say POO POO to YOU, MOMMY!" and her big curse to both her daddy and I is " I say: MAN. BY. ONE."  We have absolutely NO idea what that means, what she thinks that means or what she's is trying to mean. And no matter how ticked off we are when she says it - we have to laugh. - Maybe is God's way of protecting her and getting ourselves in check. 

The trip was too long (10 days) and we made the 14 hour drive in one shot there and one shot back.  That's a lot to ask from a grown up, much less a two year old. Plus she got some stomach bug while we were there and was bored out of her mind while she convalesced.  All those things didn't cause these negative behavior eruptions, but did exacerbate the situation. I got part of a meltdown/tantrum on video (because my parents think I'm being dramatic when I tell them she can be rotten.)

Told you. And this wasn't nearly the worst of it.  It got bad, y'all.  My husband often responds, "We need a young priest and an old priest..." referring to The Exor.cist, of which I've only seen spoofs, but you get the idea.  I suppose the situation would be intolerable if this monster child completely took over my sweet, funny, smart child - but it hasn't. 
(she thinks this picture is hilarious, by the way)
Monster Child rears it's head far more often than before, but left in the wake of her emotional destruction is my sweet, sweet child. Jekyll and Hyde is among us and the switch between the two is wickedly quick....both ways. Sometimes it's in response to something that she's not happy with. But on MANY occasions, while in the middle of a perfectly lovely activity and having a perfectly splendid time, she has completely come unglued and begun her monster transformation.  (Kinda like The Hulk - minus the ripped clothing.)

I have been reduced to tears many times during her exhausting episodes and my poor parenting attempts.  Sometimes I know it's just about riding the waves and staying strong, and sometimes I am totally discouraged, disheartened, and disappointed in both her behavior and my responses.  I think to myself, "This is not the mother I intended on becoming."  Thankfully, my husband has the same experience and knows that I'm not being dramatic in my descriptions.  He also shares my frustrations and occasional despair.

At one point during our vacation, following some wretched behavior, Iain got her to bed and I just fell apart.  I felt like a complete failure and felt absolutely clueless as to how to move ahead.  I had read the book 1-2-3 Magic for Christian parents  which was wonderful and very helpful, but we had now reached a point where she was not so affected by the time-outs or alternate consequences. 

Really, the big issue for me was two-fold. One was the fact that it was pure manipulation on her part and it was a huge quest for control - a battle of the wills.  There's a psychologist who says, "Never enter a battle of wills with a kid, but if you must, you better make darn sure you win."   Well, we've reached that point. And let me just say that it takes HUGE energy and effort to win. (I wish you could have seen me climb over the seat numerous times to deal with Little Miss Sunshine. Not really.)

The other issue is that of disobedience and disrespect.  In the broad scheme of things, I can overlook tantrums, I can ignore screaming (sometimes) -- it's the defiance and disobedience that I have a problem with.  As a parent, especially a Christian parent, obedience is a biggy.  It's not just about making her do what I want, it's about teaching the value, importance and the call to obedience. 

One day when Gianna and I were having a little 'Come to Jesus' meeting, I asked her what her job was.  I expected her to say, "To be a good listener."  That was not her response.
She said to my shock, "O-B-E-Y. Obey your mom and dad."  I had not taught her this and my obvious surprise must have registered in her little brain because she followed it by saying, "That's what the Donut Man says, Mommy. It really is!"  (Thank you EWTN for your Children's Programming!)

Well, that has become another mantra 'round these parts.  It's been a great  jumping off point.  And isn't that what we're called to do as Christian parents? these little souls get to heaven?

Now, I am quite certain that my good and faithful God is getting quite the chuckle at my frustrations with my little one, because He's been trying to teach me obedience for years with very similar defiance and tantrums.  I have found that at each parenting crossroads I've experienced, there's an even bigger lesson for me than trying to "train my child in the way she should go."  I am very aware that this child, with all of her gifts and challenges was meant specifically for me and my bless us like no other - and to stretch and test us in ways that will help us with our own individual and marital growth.

The Strong Willed Child
Not long after Gianna turned one, I was in search of articles about strong willed children.  The first I came across said that many parents were quick to label their children as strong willed, but many of these labels were inaccurate.  They had a checklist of qualities that most strong willed children possessed and Gianna only had a small number of them.

About a month ago is when we started a sort of potty training boot camp (which she did great with - and totally gave up on during vacation) is when the behavior started going awry. There may be a correlation with the control issues involved there - or it may have been a fluke...but that's when we started having daily issues that were really difficult to deal with.

So on vacation at one of the very lowest points when she really got the best of me, I was more than motivated to figure out some sort of way through this challenge.  I got online and scouted some resources that might be give me some direction and maybe a little hope to carry on.

I came across a book I've heard of by an author I was very familiar with.  The New Strong Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson (From Focus on the Family fame).  I've listened to him talk about marriage, family, child rearing, spiritual struggles, etc for over twenty years.  I knew I could trust his experience and advice.

Luckily, I recently acquired my husband's Kindle (e-reader) and was able to download the book immediately.  I was tentative as began the book because I was a little afraid of the possible realization that I was doing everything wrong.  After reading the preface I knew that this book would provide blessing, encourage and a deep sense of understanding and empathy for people who are daily dealing with those children at the frightening end of the strong willed continuum.  I'm only a third of the way through it, and I'll reserve my full review until I complete it, but it has already given my a realization that my child is not necessarily a classic example of a strong willed child, and that my concerns as well as my feelings of inadequacy, self-condemnation, and desperation are all extremely common with parents of these kids.  Whew. 

On a sidenote, one of Dr. Dobson's recommendations for parents is to lay hands on their children when they (kids) are asleep and pray to the Holy Spirit that He will help break their will without breaking their spirits. I used to pray over her at night when she was little, but then she was such a light sleeper she'd wake up just as soon as I got to the door.  I thought maybe we'd try again so, the other night I entered her room about 11:00pm when I knew she'd be completely down and as sson as I opened the door I heard, "Hey Mommy, watchya doin'?"  An alternate plan is in order, I suppose.

And wouldn't you know that just as soon as I expose my child's (and my own) darker side  that she was an absolute angel today. ANGEL, I tell you. (Well, until five minutes before bedtime, but hey - I can handle that!) 

By the way:  Even though I don't think G is a classic version of the STC, I think she's smart and stubborn with a will that needs some work.  She has remarkable self control for a little one and I know a lot of her struggles aren't unusual at her age. (She just happens to push it to the limits.)  But it is helpful to have a few tools in our back pockets and a deeper understanding of these kids and empathy for their parents. 

Okay. I'm done. More vacation pictures, more talking about my amazing child and many boring posts from my vanilla life to come. :)


  1. 4 words, Maria: Right there with you.

    Interesting that we still seek to put them in the same house/room!

  2. Oh geez I needed to read this post! My little gal is trying my patience big time! I cannot get her to cooperate for anything! I was actually looking for the Dr. Dobson book online before I read your post!! HAHA! One good thing is that having a strong will WILL get them far in life :)

  3. Maria,
    I had this post bookmarked so I could come back and comment when I had 2 minutes. Ha! Anyway, I definitely feel your pain! I am having the exact same issues with Camden. He is so strong willed! Just like Gianna, he can be sweet as pie one minute, and the devil the next! Then some days are just one big trial in patience, something I'm short on. I sure don't know what the answer is but we try new things every day and keep hoping that this too shall pass.
    I know I haven't commented in forever, but I still read your blog every day and identify with each post. If I didn't know better, I would really think the Camden and Gianna were separated at birth!
    Hope y'all have fully recovered from the stomach bug and post vacation stress!


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