Strong-Willed?

I often use many different adjectives to describe my 2-year-old daughter. After her most recent palate repair surgery a few weeks ago, the top adjectives have been strong, brave, courageous, graceful and pretty darn amazing. I have also called her loving, affectionate, beautiful, smart, clever, happy, funny, silly, spunky and feisty. She is one of the coolest kids I know and I love that I am blessed enough to be her mama. She is also one of the most strong-willed little girls I have ever met, which can make parenting challenging on some days. She has been this way since we brought her home from China in June 2011 and that part of her personality has just always been there. She has a need to control as many situations she can and will fight hard to get her way, even if the situation is inconsequential.

I know many other adoptive parents that have reported similar behavior about their adopted children, so I truly thought this kind of behavior was the status quo. After all that our children have been forced to endure, being strong-willed made sense to me because it helped them cope and survive so many situations that we cannot fathom. So although this behavior made for some interesting parenting days, I “got it” and didn’t think much else about it.

After I returned from a short-term Mission Trip last month, the strong-willed behavior seemed to kick into high gear and has continued through her palate repair surgery. Her reaction to both of these major events makes complete sense in so many ways, but again … the behavior has been difficult to parent and leaves me exhausted on some days.

So I started heavily reflecting about this behavior and pulled out the book, “The Connected Child” by Karyn Purvis. I had read it long before we brought Sunshine home but it just seemed like a good time to give myself a refresher read … I was happy to pick up any tidbit of advice that could help my daughter. What an eye opener to read it a second time around after my daughter has been home for a year! When I read it the first time, of course all of the information made complete sense but it was just theory at the time. Reading it this time was a different experience because I could relate to the behaviors discussed in the book.

It seems that my “strong-willed” and sometimes defiant baby girl is still going through some adjustments. Reading about this hurt my heart. I naively thought that after being home for a year, these adjustments and transitions would have been finished, but I was wrong. She is still adjusting to life and the major changes that we have recently thrown at her certainly don’t make that any easier! Perhaps her strong-willed nature isn’t all “strong-willed” … maybe she’s just trying to tell us that she still doesn’t feel completely safe and that she needs help in coping with all of the adjustments she’s been forced to make. Maybe her need to control situations isn’t defiance, but simply her way of telling us that the situation scares her. I do think that Sunshine will always be “strong-willed” to some degree, I truly do. I think that she’s gotten as far as she has because of it and I am so proud of her.

But I have also begun to see this behavior with more discerning eyes. It’s difficult to pick apart her reaction to a situation, because I don’t always know whether it’s typical 2-year-old behavior versus adoption-related. But I’m learning to see what’s going on her little head instead of just pulling the “strong-willed” card all the time. She’s not a typical 2-year-old and shouldn’t be treated that way. It’s easy to forget because she’s been home for a year. Figuring out the best way for me to handle a situation has proven to be more difficult than I thought, but it’s a challenge that I am committed to getting right, no matter how many mistakes I make along the way. As her mama, it is my job to give her what she needs, even if it’s not always what makes sense in my head.



Comments

  1. Great post, Nicole! I could echo so many of your sentiments here! I kept thinking all during the first year that THIS was who Joel was…and then he’d surprise us and adjust even more…and we’d see more of who he really is. There are so many wonderful layers to our babies and it takes a lot of time to peel them all back! You’re doing a great job and she is thriving. :) But my heart resonates with yours…it’s so hard to see them struggle or have a setback. Now, three years later, they happen rarely at all. Yet when they do, it still hurts so much though. Thanks for a great post. I think I need to pull that book out again and read up since we are leaving in a few weeks for #4!

  2. This is such a challenge. Our oldest is strong-willed, almost 8 y.o, home 6 years, while our other two aren’t strong-willed at all – happy-go-lucky and compliant (most of the time). A few years ago we tried to get our son to eat his vegetables (an ongoing struggle). I told him that if he didn’t finish his dinner, he would eat it for breakfast. So I pulled it out at breakfast, then at lunch (while his brother had a happy meal), then at dinner. He hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. Then he started throwing up – six times. I called the pediatrician and he told me to just let it go for the sake of his health. I was frustrated, to say the least. But I also realized that day, that God would have to change him. Clearly it was going to take something supernatural to work in him, to heal the pain he has suffered.

  3. Good morning Nicole et al – Just a couple quick thoughts from a dad here – but also one that after 30+ years in law enforcement (in which one of the “keys” of survival is ‘watching people’) – and going on 10 years of adoptive fatherhood (3 adopted)…

    The book you mention is well worth a 2nd and maybe a 3rd read!

    While your child (adopted or not!) might “present well” and appear confident etc in about any new circumstance (at least to the relative stranger) – watch their hands too! I’ve noticed in a lot of kids a “clenching” or even “hand wringing” behavior in new circumstances – when in all other ways they appeared “confident” or “in control”.

    And that is one of those “subtle clues” that we pick up on but freqently can’t articulate!

    hugs – great post –

    aus and co.

    • Hi Aus, thanks for that advice! Interesting you mention that because when things aren’t going her way, she does tend to fidget with her fingers in (what I would consider) an unusual way. I’m going to really pay attention to that in the future, thank you!

  4. I’ve described my daughter as strong-willed as well. And she is. But we won’t ever know if it comes naturally to her personality or if it is all attributed to the fact that she spent 3 1/2 years living in her SWI, then life changed forever just 15 months ago when she came home.

    She is actually so strong-willed that she can force herself to stay alert through sedation meds when it is time for a medical procedure. She requires the maximum dose of anesthesia when she has surgery. She refuses to give in.

    But. She also learned to walk with a dislocated hip and knee before surgery, then learned to walk again after surgery corrected both of those things. She. Is. Amazing.

    With each of my children, I have found that sometimes there are traits they have that bring out negative behaviors, and I feel a need to correct that personality trait. However, I have also found that as they mature, those traits yield some very positive things as well. We just have to help them use the traits they have in good ways. I don’t think my daughter will ever lose her “strong-willed” title, but I do see her learning to not allow it to control her.

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