Strong-willed. Headstrong. Future leader. Fierce. Stubborn. Spirited. My daughter is all of these things and more. During our nearly six years together, her sheer force of will has regularly challenged my understanding of what it means to be a good parent. Parenting a Spirited Child presents unique challenges. It turns out that sometimes actually being a good parent means letting the world perceive you as a terrible one.
Like many spirited children, Lillian has a sense of style all her own. It can be a regular source of consternation in our household. This is what she chose to wear today:
A secondhand summer sundress, filthy oversized pink tights, too-small Fourth of July flip flops, bedhead and a necklace fashioned from a plastic “Florida” keychain. She wore this ensemble on a half-mile scooter ride to our local conservatory for a kids festival. Despite temperatures hovering around 50 degrees and blustery winds, she refused to wear a coat. Apparently her fiery nature provides all the warmth she needs.
Choose Your Battles
On this, like so many other days, I used every last ounce of personal restraint and made the conscious choice to let her be her. Of course I suggested she find appropriate footwear and a jacket, but when she refused I let it go. This isn’t something that I come by easily. I too am spirited and I like to be in control. Acquiescing to a small, unreasonable and sometimes illogical child can be incredibly difficult. But over the years, I’ve begun to understand the importance of weighing options and choosing my battles carefully. There is always a next battle.
Ignore the Uninitiated
I’ve learned to ignore the bewildered looks from non-parents and parents of agreeable children. I’m sure I passed similar judgements before I had kids. I give them a meek smile when they they see me trailing behind my little tempest in a tutu. Sometimes I’ll hold out her coat (she never wears a coat) as a prop, hoping its presence communicates to strangers that I am at least attempting to be a good parent. I remind myself that, despite my self-conciousness, the reality is I don’t need to be a good parent for the rest of the world. I just need to be one for her.
Often what she needs more than anything else is to be accepted. To be allowed enough freedom to be herself. Its not always easy and I sometimes fear the battles we have ahead of us. Teenage Lilly is sure to be a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully the more I practice now, the better prepared I’ll be for what lies ahead. Because, with a child as strong willed as mine, letting go is sometimes the the only way I can embrace her.