Encouragement for Mamas of Strong Willed Children

By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer

The other morning I was snuggling with my three year old daughter on the couch right after she had woken up.  I love those times of the morning, where my kids are bleary eyed and will actually sit with me for extended minutes while I kiss their heads, rub their backs and just breathe in all of the their sweetness.

“I love you mom, so much… I could never even stop loving you!” she says to me.  The emotion in my heart welled up in my eyes.  “I know sweetie, I love you so much too, and will never stop loving you.”

And last night, my little boy, not even two, says to me for the first time, unprompted, “I yuve you mom,” and I can’t stop kissing him and saying, “I love you too, I love you too, so much.”  So much I think my heart will burst.

My babies, except they’re really not babies anymore.  Three and a half and smart as a whip and sharp as a knife.  23 months, with a will of iron and the best laugh. Ever.

Is It Supposed to Be This Hard?

These little ones, my little ones, being a mom is the most rewarding, and hardest thing I have ever done. And these little moments are the ones that make everything else seems so insignificant. The moments where I hope that I must be doing at least something right.  My kids know that I love them, and they love me in return.  What more could I ask for?

These moments, although huge in their significance, are small in number and scattered between times, minutes, hours, sometime whole days it feels like, where my kids, how shall I say it – well let’s just say that those other times don’t bring out the best in me as a mother.

My kids fight me, resist correction, throw tantrums, exert their free and strong wills. All. day. long.

I will be honest that I often, daily, struggle with my role as a mother. I feel inadequate, ill prepared, for this enormous task of raising these little ones. And I often struggle with knowing if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m doing a good job, if my kids even hear or learn from anything I’m saying or trying to teach them.

And I get discouraged, and disheartened.  Is it supposed to be this hard?

I often find myself needing some encouragement, a word, a thought, a smile from one of them, that tells me that it’s going to be alright.  And that helps me to get from one moment to the next.  Because with these kids, that’s the only way I can live – moment by moment.

Give God Room to Work in Their Lives

I was recently listening to a program on the radio about raising children with strong wills and the speaker was saying that as parents we cannot make our children do anything.  This is one thing that I learned pretty early on as a parent of a strong willed daughter, but I still sometimes act as though I can.

This speaker said that the only one who can actually make us do something, who has control over our free will as a person, is God, but He doesn’t ever exert that power over us.  He never makes us do something, even though He could. He always gives us our free will. So, who am I, as an imperfect parent, to think that I have more authority over my child than God and can force them to do something?

Instead I need to look to God, the one who changes hearts, and pray that he would change my heart first. That instead of trying to force my will onto my child, that I would step back, and allow God the space that His Spirit needs to work in my childrens’ lives.

All the while, crying out to Him in prayer, for His grace, and patience, and love, to show through me, and for my children that it would be Him, and not me, working in their little hearts and lives to mold them and shape them into the people that He wants them to be.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have this all figured out – not by a long shot.  I am a very imperfect parent in need of as much grace, if not more, than my strong willed children.  After all, I was am a strong willed child just like them (where do I think they got it from?) and in His love, my Heavenly Father never exerts his will over mine.

I am so thankful that God loves my kids even more than I do, and He has a plan and a purpose for their lives, there is a reason that He has given them strong wills.  And even though it is so hard at times, I know that more than having perfectly obedient children, I want to encourage them, help them, and guide them to embrace all that God has created them to be.

Do you struggle with parenting your strong willed children?  What encourages you in midst of the struggle?

About Emily McClements

Emily is a blessed wife and mama to three little ones. She is passionate about caring for God’s creation and people by being a good steward of the resources He has provided. As part of her journey towards living more “frugally green” she blogs about the things she is learning and the changes she is making at Live Renewed.

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  1. Thanks for posting this. I have two children as well and whilst my 6 yr old has not been super strong willed he’s given me a run for my money over the years. However my near 2 year old is more stubborn than I could ever imagine! This is just what I needed to read!!

  2. We all feel like that right? I cannot count the number of times I wanted to strangle my oldest (now 4). But really, haven’t we done much worse to our Savior? You are right when you say imperfect… imperfect parents demanding perfection from their own children? I read Dr. Dobson’s popular book on Strong-willed children (can’t remember the name of it tho lol) and even though I didn’t think it was a great book, I took away one thing — pray that the Holy Spirit will take hold of your child’s will and show them how to be in control also. But us, we aren’t to break their will because, as you said, God meant it to be there for a reason. I’m definitely looking to write some things like this myself when I open up my website in a few weeks here.

  3. I’m very blessed to come across this blog!!! My husband and I really needed the encouragement. I struggle with trying to understand my childs strong willed nature because my husband and I where both submissive children till young adulthood.I feel like I don’t relate to his diffiance, but I’m trying to appreciate the strong man I see in the future because of his will to stand up for what he wants. I DONT want to destroy his stong spirit but I want to also instill respect for others. Its an ongoing struggle for us but with God all things are possible, hopefully God will give us His patience in our time of need.Thank you all for reminding us we are not alone.

  4. Thank you so much for the encouragement and the reminder! The hardest part for me is letting go of the controls and handing God the “steering wheel”, especially when it comes to my daughter. Understanding that sometimes, there’s nothing I can do, and that I’ve done all that it is in my power, now it’s time to tap into a higher power.
    Thanks again for a very uplifting article!

  5. Jennifer says:

    God sent me to this post tonight; I have 4 children ages 6 and under and 3 of the 4 are most definitely strong-willed, and I continually feel like I am failing. My oldest still throws temper tantrums at times similar to our one year old. My husband and I are frustrated and at our wits end, both of us begging the Lord for guidance. We certainly have structure and discipline, but it doesn’t seem to do much good. The behaviours don’t change. My daughter (the oldest) says she has asked Jesus into her heart, but yet she is really struggling with not acting any differently, and then she beats herself up when she is done with her fits. I am just fearful that they will grow up and be stubborn against the Lord and not choose Him; while I cannot make them do that, I want that for them more than anything else in their lives. Thank you for the encouragement that you shared in this post!

  6. I heard that radio show too…but I was running about and didn’t get to hear all of it. It really impacted me because my husband and I are both strong willed…our oldest daughter is SO obediant, and flexible, and easy to handle…but our youngest is very strong willed. So, we’ve had difficulties with her royal twoness the last few months. I am so blessed to read this. To be reminded by others in this walk to leave room for GOD to show them…Praise the Lord.

  7. I’m humbled by this post and in tears. I too am a strong willed child and have 2 strong willed daughters. I felt exactly like you…very inadequate in my parenting and frustrated that I’m always frustrated. Wanting to have well-mannered children (because I TOTALLY judge parents who’s kids are brats & don’t want people thinking my kids are & judging me…hypocritical I know) yet not wanting to be a psycho, Hitler-like control freak mom who is no fun & doesn’t allow my children to be who God created them to be. I forget about God (my independent side) and allowing him to take control…of me…so I can be the best mom in the world. Thank you for the reminder and for helping me know there are other mom’s like me. I love my girls more than anyone and am thankful God chose me to watch over them and train them for Him!

  8. My goal in teaching my daughter, and my students, to obey and submit to me, is in preparation for them submitting to God. Right now, God deals with grace and gentleness, using it to win us and change our hearts so that we WANT to do the right thing– but one Day, on the Last Day, He will no longer approach with kindness. The Scriptures are crystal clear that every single knee– willing or not– will bow (Phil 2), and every single tongue WILL confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, like it or not. God absolutely will make everyone do exactly what is right. Parenting is done in light of that Day. It’s not about me exerting my will over my daughter to MAKE her pick up her toys- that would be sinful pride, exasperating my child. It is about me teaching her to submit herself to a will other than her own, (and I pray!) learning to make herself do things so that she is spared the terror of an angry, righteous Judge making her do them.

    A more experienced mom once told me to pick the lines I draw- so my kids don’t have to dance to avoid them, or feel totally cramped! But also, to draw the lines that I need to draw. If we don’t demand from our kids just for the sake of demanding, they will be more likely to respond in joyful obedience when it IS demanded. And at times, it is demanded.

    Two great parenting books I love are Ted Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” and “Don’t Make me Count to Three” by Ginger Plowman.

  9. Good post, and something I work on quite a lot. Several things help me stay balanced 1) remembering that the training is as much about God training me, as it is about God training my girls through me 2) Memorizing scripture 3) Knowing when to walk away because I am loosing my self-control 4) Don’t wait till things go wrong to train. Set up training moments when you are calm and they are calm and everyone is feeling well. They will be different depending on age. For a one year old it might be as simple and setting down a cookie and telling them not to touch it, and enforcing it until they obey. Think of the way good dog training works. They don’t wait till the dog is running away and the whole situation is out of control and the dog is about to be hit by a car to teach the dog to come. A good dog trainer teaches a dog to come under a controlled safe environment. 5) Don’t teach your children that you expect obedience only when you raise your voice and are loosing self-control or when you get to the number five. Don’t give any command you are not ready to enforce the very first time the command is given. Do this consistently and your child will learn to obey the first time a command is given in a calm voice.
    I have twins, both stubborn and head strong in there own way. And there have been days I have screamed and been the worst person I am capable of being, but I learn to forgive myself and do better the next time. And now at 15 months the girls come when I tell them to, wait when asked, put things back when told to. Consistency is hard work but it pays off.
    Two books I would recommend are “Train up a Child” and “Hints and child training” both have been a huge blessing to me.
    Finally I agree with your point that we cannot force our children to bend to our will (“Hints on Child Training” talks a lot about that) though we must punish for disobedience, but I will disagree on the point that God NEVER forces us to do his will. Sometimes he does, though most of the time he will not. Think of Pharaoh or Jonah, though their hearts never seem to change, God does MAKE them do his will. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Heather Moll says:

    thank you so much for writing this post. i can relate to so much of what you said. i have 2 strong willed children and often wonder if i’m doing anything right. i never thought parenting would be as hard but also as wonderful as it is. just wanted to say thanks for your honesty.

  11. These are all such good thoughts. You are all great mommas and I salute you (us!) for heart and endurance.
    I would like to observe though: it might be dangerous to become too focused on our own inadequacies as mothers. That can be paralyzing. We all do need to grow and improve, that’s true. But our children should be discipled/parented/taught/loved right now, without us waiting until we feel ‘adequate’ or ‘deserving’ of the role. I often feel tempted to overlook my children’s poor behavior or attitudes because I remember how spiritually immature I am myself. I know that I am a disobedient child of God’s, too. But that doesn’t mean I have no right to require my children to learn to be obedient. On the contrary- I don’t have the right NOT to. It’s biblical. They need to obey me because of the position I’m in as their mother; they’re not off the hook just because I am not perfect.
    My girlfriends are often asking for prayer for their mothering, or bemoaning that they obviously need more patience and grace for their strong-willed children. And I think: “Girl! Your kids were being really naughty! It’s their behavior and attitude that needs changing, not yours.” Grace and patience- yes, those are needed, but also action. Don’t be afraid of your kids, of setting off a tantrum, of making a decision they don’t like, or of them not ‘liking’ you.

    You and your children will all be happier and freer to experience the joys of childhood, if you establish early the firm (and reasonable) requirements of their behavior. When this is basically in place, there is so much fun and joy available to them! They don’t have to spend all morning testing your boundaries (they know those), therefore they have time to color and blow bubbles and play dress-up and read books and play tag with you…

    Both spiritually, and in childhood, real freedom and joy can only be found through obedience.

  12. Thank you for this post, I have been praying about how to deal with my two youngest, they both have strong wills. As I read your post I though about how you can’t hold on to a strong wind but you can harness its energy and direct it for a useful purpose. That is my prayer for my children to take that will and direct it towards a useful purpose, His glory.

  13. Thanks for this! My baby is only 4 months but refuses a bottle. Strong-willed? I think yes! So I know this is going to be a great post to continue coming back to in the future. And it’s a good reminder for the bottle thing now… it’s just not a huge deal in the long run. And I don’t need to try to control her or that situation so much.

  14. I think one of the challenges for me and my (5) strong willed children… is the continually deciding of when it is time for me to “win” and when it is time to “let go”. At this point, I am encouraged that the letting go and not always having to “win” and believing in the best/ giving them the benefit of the doubt pays off in the long run, big time :).

  15. I have a strong willed little girl too!! She is one year old, and thinks she pretty much rules the house and should get to do/eat/play with/destroy whatever she would like to at any given moment in time… Whatever she wants to do, she tries to do it, and if I physically remove her from whatever she is trying to do, a tantrum ensues :) I do my best to be patient with her and explain her feelings to her in simple terms. I also try to explain to her how to deal with frustration, but it is difficult because she can’t understand what I am saying. So hopefully someday (soon) she will understand and learn how to control the emotions she feels herself. I have a hard time with things when I am not in control, so I am sure she gets this from me.

    I pray for patience, guidance and wisdom to deal with this difficult stage of learning independence (and learning limitations)… God has wonderful things planned for her life, I know this. Thank you for this post. I really needed it. Praise God for little blessings like this blog – and for our children who really and truly are such blessings to us :)

  16. I have an almost-three-year-old and I’ve been praying for God to mold his spirit into one of calm, rather than destruction. I need to add myself to that, too, thank you for the reminder :)

  17. Jessica says:

    Thank you for posting this. We have been struggling a lot with our strong willed 4 year old. This was very encouraging and I just wanted to say thanks! :)

  18. Shannon says:

    The book Raising Your Spirited Child helped me tremendously with understanding my 3 year old son. I am much more at peace with his temperament and personality, and try to enjoy him every day, instead of battle with him.

  19. joyce-ellen says:

    truly what i needed to read today. Stuggling with a very strong-willed 2 year old, and I am an exhausted mama pregnant with baby #2… feeling nervous about having another little one to add to the mix, and wanting to be the best mama that God has called me to be. thanks again!

  20. Christina Y says:

    This was the perfect thing for me to read today – being a mom to two very strong willed children. I like the idea of praying to God daily for grace and patience… and to remind myself that I can’t change their personalities. God has a great plan for both of them… what a great prespecitve to have! Thank you for this article! It’s refreshing to know that my kids are not the only strong-willed kiddos out there :)

  21. Thank you for this post. I have an 11 month old and some days are just so hard. How hard it is to be a mother isnt often talked about as it makes us feel like we’re bad mothers so thank you for sharing. Makes me feel so much better that I’m not the only one. Beautiful photos


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