It’s Not Your Fault! The Lesson I Learned Parenting a Difficult Child
As an infant, my daughter was a fairly easy baby. As long as her needs were met, she was an easy child, very alert and highly social. However the older she got, and the more her idea of what to do conflicted with what I wanted her to do, the more “difficult” she became. She seemed to have a will of iron. When she made up her mind to do something, she didn’t care what the consequences were going to be. She was going to do it.
The terrible twos became the tantrumming threes and then the frightful fours. I struggled for years with a deep sense of failure regarding my daughter. I kept wondering when things were going to get better. If I could keep her busy and engaged, she did okay. But whenever there was a conflict, she would dissolve into tears, screaming and flailing on the floor. This line of poetry came to mind frequently: “When she was good, she was very, very good; and when she was bad, she was horrid.”
I hoped that starting school would help her settle down. Many mothers of high-intensity kids told me that that was the case with their kids. However, our family made the choice to homeschool; so we not only battled over things like cleaning up, taking care of hygiene, and being considerate, we also battled over school lessons. There was no break from one another, so the arguments and bad behavior affected me all day, every day.
It’s not that every day was one misery after another. It was the fact that her negative reactions were so intense, and her feelings so huge, that one difficult moment could make the entire day go south in a hurry. And every time I was confronted with her intense reactions, I would ask myself what I had done to cause it. I found myself having thoughts like: if I were a good parent, my daughter wouldn’t be acting this way; if I read this parenting book and implement the suggestions, my daughter will be compliant, and so on. At one point, I figured I was being too harsh. So I swung the pendulum the other way and tried being more lenient. Nothing helped. I believed the lie that good kids are made by good parents. Since my daughter was difficult, then I must be the cause; my poor parenting had made her the way she was.
Looking back, I can see my faulty logic. Now that we have other kids, who handle things much more “normally,” I know that my daughter’s reactions were not my fault.
If you are parenting a child who frequently has you in tears, if you feel like a failure as a parent, if you beat yourself up over the way your child behaves, I want to share with you the lesson I’ve learned.
Some kids are hard.
No amount of punishment, bribes, positive reinforcement, talking, hugs, lecturing, crying, begging, pleading, or fury can make a “difficult” kid an “easy” kid. Some kids are compliant, okay with taking instructions. Others are born questioning why anyone else on the planet should have the right to “boss them around.” Each personality presents its own parenting challenges. No personality style is all good or all bad, though some are more challenging to raise.
Many of your kid’s traits are innate and cannot be changed, no more than they can change their eye color, height, or skin color. As parents, our job is to teach our kids to moderate their natural impulses and use them for “good,” rather than “evil.” Your child’s obstinate, passionate, perfectionist personality is the way that Nature made him, and one day it could serve him well. My mother said it well when my daughter was about 4 years old: “If you can ever get that child pointed in the right direction, you won’t have another moment’s worry because nobody will ever be able to talk her into anything that she doesn’t want to do.”
So if you are raising a “challenging” child, take heart! It’s not your fault. You can learn to parent your child effectively. Even if it takes a while for your kid to develop the maturity to handle his or her emotions, frustrations, and personal challenges in a healthy, appropriate way, it will be okay. Learn to stay positive, discuss things with your child in a positive, non-critical way, and stay firmly consistent. Things will improve over time.
One more thing—once I stopped seeing my daughter’s poor behavior as a reflection of my parenting, my emotional equilibrium improved. I wasn’t taking tantrums and back-talk personally, so I could respond in a much more consistent, kind, and loving way. I was able to be more creative in solving problems. My daughter also picked up on my new ability to step back in the heat of an argument and handle things more maturely. And that’s something we both needed.