Mothering the Difficult Child

I want to preface this by saying that I love my sweet little girl so very, very much! Unfortunately, when it comes to motherhood posts, I do not have the luxury to say, “Out of all my children, I had one that was…” When I talk about my child, there’s only one to choose from so everyone knows who I’m talking about. Because of that, I want to be very, very careful what I say and how I say it. BUT most of us mamas probably have that one child who takes naughty to the next level.

Difficult children are not always fun to be around. There, I said it. It’s the truth. In general they can be selfish, stubborn, mean, annoying, frustrating, and basically any other disagreeable word you can put on that list. And not only that, but their faults are GLARING. They wear their character flaws like crazy bright clothing—they can’t be missed, especially in public! At times, they can be really, REALLY hard to like. One of the hardest truths to swallow, is that, if they’re viewed like that by their own parents, they are viewed like that by pretty much everyone else in their lives (except all the Grandmas at church). But hear this loud and clear, and remember it on the hardest of days...that strong impossible will may seem like a curse, but if we can figure out how to channel it in the right direction, it may turn out to be one of the biggest blessings of our lives.

Just remember you are NOT ALONE. Sometimes, it gets to feeling like your child is the worst kid in the whole entire world. Selfishly, you may feel relieved to finally see someone else’s child acting just as naughty as your own. Not gonna lie, it is SO DISCOURAGING. You work and pray and work and pray, and four years later, you are still working and praying over the SAME EXACT THINGS! But every single time I go through a “season” like this, and I find I’m at the end of myself begging God to “just please do it because I can’t take it anymore,” I find He points things out in MY OWN life that I need to change first.

So let's take The Motherhood Heart Check.

1. Comparison?

This is one that is a CONSTANT struggle. Too often my eyes can start looking around at everyone else’s kids and I start thinking, “If only my kid acted like that!” I have to constantly remind myself that God wired this child just the way she is for a specific purpose, and her daddy and I have got to figure out how to turn this 'in control" personality trait into an amazing strength rather than a crippling weakness!

I like to imagine a child like a flower. We can water and weed and prune and nurture so that the flower buds and blooms and grows to it's fullest potential. But if that flower comes up purple when all we really want is pink, what can we do about it? Well, I suppose we could sit around and have a bad attitude about what color it is and make life miserable for everyone around us including the flower, or we can choose to make it the most beautiful purple flower we have ever seen! Each one of our flowers, before they were ever born, were created to have a specific color—a specific temperament. The best thing we can do is to accept the fact that God made this child with this way for a reason, and figure out how to help him reach his fullest potential with the temperament God gave him.

You’ve heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Well, it’s true in child rearing too. Start looking around at all the “good” kids around you, start wishing your kid was as good as that kid, and you’ll start being unsatisfied and ungrateful and nit-picky with the child God gave to YOU.

2. Lack of Faith?

Sometimes in this motherhood journey, it is so incredibly easy to get bogged down with a certain child’s behavior right now in the present. Frustration arises when we administer consequences and work on the same things over and over and over again, and there is NO CHANGE. We expect results RIGHT NOW. We dealt with this behavior, and now it should be gone.

When E was around 18 months old, she started throwing several temper tantrums every single day, and they progressively got worse and worse for three weeks. I faithfully “restrained” her through them, but I thought they would never end! What is wrong with my child? I read that if you deal with tempers the moment they start, you’ll never have to deal with them again! Earth to me, basically no children in the whole wide world are “by the book.” Just after a few days I was mentally drained and exhausted. It was torture.

It seems like God has to bring us to these "I can't" points in motherhood to remind us that it is not about US raising our children, it’s about HIM. It’s when we finally throw our hands up, and say, “Ok God, I’m sorry for trying to do this in my own strength. Here you go. Take her back. You have to do it.” Now we’re finally getting somewhere.

It was during that temper tantrum season that I claimed Galatians 6:9 and have never let go! “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” What is more physically draining and exhausting than mothering a child who will not change?! Boy, do I want to faint sometimes! But in due season (as in years down the road!), if I keep pushing along, keep faithfully training and nurturing, she IS going to turn out all right.

You see, parenting takes faith—SERIOUS faith. In six and a half years, I have not seen any fruit in my labors. In fact, if I’m being honest, E has gotten worse over the years, not better. But someday, God is going to do it—He's going to change her if I cling in faith to God’s Word (and obey it)—even when I’m not seeing immediate results.

3. Letting their behavior effect my attitude?

Here is one I struggle with because after a good solid week (or three) of naughty behavior, I tend to become a Debbie Downer. It’s hard to always live in faith like mentioned earlier, and always cling to the the “someday” when all we want is just to see some small change right now. Just an eensy teensy little change please? But no, nothing, just continual teaching and training, with little to show for it. And then all the angry thoughts come—the frustration, the bitterness, the questioning. Why God? Why is this child so naughty? She uses up all my physical, mental and emotional strength! Why!?

And then the grudge cloud comes. Yes truly, a real grudge at a 6-year-old, that puts a cloud over family relationships. It sounds so dumb writing it all out, and yet sometimes it comes—this grudge against a child who is rocking our “happy family life” boat, causing shame and embarrassment, frustration, and tension.

It’s when I start feeling like this, I know it’s time to take a look at my heart. Where am I wrong? What needs to change? Children typically reflect that attitudes of their parents, and I find when I am dealing with my child out of frustration and anger, even if it doesn’t show, she will in turn respond in the same way. It becomes a bitter cycle that continues on and on until someone has a “Come to Jesus” moment.

Stepping away, taking time with God, asking for His strength to get over this hump—it usually makes all the difference in the world! An attitude adjustment is usually exactly what I need to keep on pressing on.

4. Failing to see the potential in your child?

God gave this child to you because He wanted YOU to raise him. He could have put their unique personality into a different family, but He chose YOU. This baffles me! (Side note, I am not ignoring the role of daddy here, but this post is about motherhood.)

One thing that is difficult about a strong-willed child is that their character flaws are so glaring, that it takes really, really hard work to find the good. We are tempted to rail on them for all their wrongs (and there’s a lot), but then we fail to look for the good. Can you imagine having all of your annoying faults pointed out all day every day, and never ever getting praised for something you did right?

Everyone sees the glaring bad in her…because it’s so obvious. Her sin is not hiding beneath the surface. It boils over and bubbles out. She is hard to like—in plain English, people don’t like her. And because of the glaring bad, the little bit of good usually gets overlooked by EVERYBODY.

So WHO WILL POINT OUT THE GOOD IN YOUR DIFFICULT CHILD IF YOU DON’T MAMA? (Oh, this makes me cry every time I think of it!) If YOU, their very own mother, cannot find the potential in your child, who will? Yes, they’re so naughty you want to pull your hair out, hide in the bathroom, give someone else a chance to raise them to see if they’ll do a better job. But at the end of the exhausting Sunday, when everyone and their mother has seen how blatantly naughty our child is, and we are at our wit’s end, WHO IS LEFT to say, “Yes, you struggled today, yes you have to receive a consequence for the way you behaved, but you know what? God has a special plan for you, and He is going to take all of your brokenness and sin, and he is going to take that amazing strong will you have, and he’s going to use you in a great way someday!”? Who is going to say that? It’s us, mamas! Aside from God, we are the only ones (and daddy) who can look deep into our child’s heart and find the good and praise them for the right. Oh, the ugly is easy to spot, it doesn’t need pointed out, but the good…it’s somewhere deep down, and it just needs a mama to notice it and praise it and draw it out!

You've heard that people live what they believe. If you're always railing on your difficult child about how frustrating, annoying and naughty they are, they will believe it and they will live it. Dwelling on their weaknesses can shut down their potential. So look for the good and point it out. Praise them even for the smallest of things. And just maybe they will start believing it and living it.

Michelangelo said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." Does that not sum up motherhood? Especially mothering a difficult child? Your child needs you to find that angel and carve and carve and carve until he is "set free!"

Raising a strong-willed child is a difficult task. Raising any child is a difficult task. But God can equip us to get the job done properly if we first make sure our own hearts are right!

Practical Takeaways:

  • Focus on taking your child's strong will and turning it into an amazing strength rather than a crippling weakness.

  • Find a verse that encourages you through the tough days of mothering and cling to it.

  • Try not to let the strong-willed child's behavior effect your attitude.

  • Strong-willed children's flaws are glaring, so purposely look for and praise the good.

Still need more encouragement? Check these resources out:

***Disclaimer: I do not claim to agree with or believe EVERY SINGLE THING these authors say or promote, but I do find that if I can look past those few things that I don't "like," they have a lot of helpful and practical advice that have helped me become a better mom.

Raising In-Charge Girls: For when you've got a daughter who is as independent as mine!

Strong-Willed Children are a Blessing not a Curse: For when you need some encouragement from someone who's done it already.

Dealing with a Difficult Child: For more help with the nitty-gritty.

The Five Love Languages of Your Children with Gary Chapman: 1+ hour video for when you need encouragement to love your difficult child and help understanding HOW to show your child love. (Or purchase the book here.)

The Flavor of Joy: For when you need an attitude adjustment. (This author is a bit dogmatic and overbearing, but he does have some valid, helpful points.)

How to Develop Your Child’s Temperament by Beverly LaHaye: For help with understanding the temperament of your strong-willed child (or any child). I believe this book is out of print. You can buy used on Amazon, thrift-books, or ebay.

Parenting Your Powerful Child by Dr. Kevin Leman: For help with understanding and dealing with your strong-willed child. Dr. Leman gave a lot of practical advice going along with his book on the Focus on the Family podcast. Listen to part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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