Parenting challenges can come with unexpected blessings. When Paul and I married in 2000, we decided to have kids right away. I had spent eleven years as a single parent and looked forward to having a partner to help raise my children.
When Katherine came to us in August of the following year, we were overjoyed and eager to spend time with our daughter. By the second night at home all I wished for was sleeping more than two hours at a shot. Katherine would scream—not cry—scream until I thought she was going to pass out.
Paul and I plodded along trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in our lives. I prayed occasionally for more patience, but in all honesty what I truly wanted was for Katherine to get over whatever stage she was in. Time would show, however, this was no stage. We had a strong-willed child.
As Katherine grew, so did her strong will. Small battles became bigger battles as she fought for control over every aspect of her life. My husband and I would share knowing glances across the supper table as the nightly ritual of food throwing began. I talked to her pediatrician about it more than once. He suggested reading materials, which I never bothered with because I barely had time to shower never mind read a three-hundred page book. I prayed a little more. I asked God for more patience and understanding. I begged him to give me one day that didn’t include a time out.
But the defiance continued.
I spent more time scolding Katherine than I did enjoying her company. I felt like a failure. Pushed beyond my limits, by the time my husband came home from work I was physically and emotionally exhausted. It strained our marriage. I prayed when I wasn’t too tired.
During the third year of my tap dance through World War III, I discovered Dr. James Dobson’s The New Strong-Willed Child. I laughed and cried as I read some of the personal accounts from parents who sounded as overwhelmed as I. The most important chapter for me was on how to tame the child’s will without breaking her spirit. In reading these pages, I realized I would need more help from the Almighty than an occasional prayer would offer, because by the time I reached the point where I was willing to read Dobson’s book, I felt so angry and resentful over my child’s behavior that I was more interested in breaking her will at any and all costs.
So began my daily discussions with the Lord. I asked for guidance on how he wanted me to use what I had read to shape Katherine’s will. I begged him to take away the anger, frustration and resentment I felt toward my daughter so we could have a meaningful relationship. Sometimes Katherine and I would pray together at bedtime, asking Jesus to give us a good day—one where she listened better and I was more patient.
The litany of difficult days became sprinkled with easier days; even some truly great days where her loving kindness shone brightly.
As I diligently prayed, God sent me occasional messages to keep me focused on my goal. I would read or hear something about the importance of recognizing and appreciating your child for being the person God created. As I came to realize that Katherine’s strong will was a gift from our Creator, I felt my resentment melt away. I found myself angry and frustrated a little less and I didn’t consider myself to be such a failure.
Months later a revelation occurred. I wish it were subtle as his work, but it was more like someone slapping me offside the head—because of Katherine’s strong-willed nature, I became a more devoted Christian. God had been gently telling me he wanted me to bring my burdens to him. In my humanity, I thought I could solve the problem myself; but it was impossible for me to see my daughter’s strong will as a gift without his help.
After the discovery, I decided to add one more prayer to my daily devotion. I thank the Lord for making Katherine who she is. Without her it may have been even longer before I engaged God in conversation on a regular basis. And for that, I must admit I consider her strong will to be an unexpected blessing.