How To Handle Critics While Raising Your Strong-Willed Child

by Tara Johnson

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked slowly, trying to understand what the older woman who had approached me had said, a task made difficult by my son’s screams of temper and my own strangled nerves. I felt frayed. Exhausted. At the end of my rope. The excursion into Walmart was not going well. strong-willed-child

I’d had high hopes for the grocery store run. After all, my son’s terrible two fits were getting better. I had been diligent with him at home. He seemed to be comprehending that life wasn’t just about him. We were making progress. Less screams of temper. A slight bending of that iron-strong will of his. Was he stubborn? Most definitely so, but learning. He was learning and improving.

Until we arrived at Walmart.

My little man always wants to be held, a difficult task since his little two-year old body weighs in at a sturdy thirty-eight pounds. I had carried him far too much at church camp the week before and was still healing from a burst blood vessel in my arm as a result.

Instead, I planned. Nate can’t be trusted in a regular shopping cart. He stands up and nearly falls out when the momentum carries him past the frequent stops. His legs are too long for the front kiddie seat so that left one option: the hoss cart.

You know what I’m talking about? Those big blue carts that are the shopping cart equivalent to a monster truck? This hernia-inducing cart has a row of bench seats,  complete with seat belts and a regular cart attached to the end. My nine year old scooted into the bench next to Nate and my twelve year old walked beside me as I grunted that tank up and down aisles. For the first fifteen minutes things went well…until he discovered that when Mom is perusing products, the down time is a perfect opportunity to escape.

Maybe I can hold him. If we hurry, we can get through in fifteen more minutes, right?

Wrong. Nate began wiggling and squirming in my arms. Another ten minutes and my back was shot. With no other alternative, I plopped him back in his seat. “Sorry, little man, but Mommy’s back is hurting too badly. I need you to sit like a big boy until we’re done.”

In a flash, the demon of fury that resides in my toddler rose up with shocking force. He screamed. He slapped. He wailed. He hit himself. He tried to hit me. Wheeling the hoss cart into the shoe section with surprising speed, I grabbed his flailing body and gave him several swift swats to his rear, followed by a stern admonition to straighten up and fly right.

He was having none of it. I needed his crib, a place for time-out where he could escape until he calmed down. For a fleeting moment, I thought about building a time-out fort from shoe boxes but decided against it. Stores don’t seem to like it when you do that.

Seeing no other options, I seat-belted him into the cart as his screams reached ear shattering levels. I shouted to the girls, “Okay, here’s the game plan: get only the necessities like milk and bread and we’ll hightail it out of here.”

My sweet girls nodded and did their level best to help me do my Indy 500 shopping. Nate never calmed down though. He slapped, he kicked, he wailed, he shrieked. With every spine-jerking scream, my nerves stretched tighter and tighter.screaming

Absently grabbing a loaf of bread, I thought, Am I a terrible mother? Why do all of our trips to town end like this? I spank. I do time-outs. I talk. I reason. I reward. I punish. I’m consistent. I don’t give in. I don’t back down. I cuddle him. I love on him. I do everything I know to do and still, this is what happens. I thought I had this whole mothering thing figured out. The girls are sweet as pie. Where did I go wrong?

Then the nosy, albeit well-intentioned lady approached me as I grabbed for some eggs.

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked, trying to formulate a reply. “Yes, ma’am. Actually I did wear him out. This is the aftermath of his temper tantrum.”

She shook her head, giving me a sweet yet somehow condescending smile. “No, honey, I mean you should take him to the bathroom and spank his bottom and don’t let him out until he’s stopped.”

I nearly laughed in disbelief. Keep Nate in the Walmart bathroom until he stopped screaming? I really didn’t have the time to keep him in lockdown for seven hours. Trust me, that’s how long it would take before little man gave up. Plus I had two other kids to consider.

As a Christian mom, I never thought I would say this, especially since I’ve always been taught and read the admonition to “spare the rod and spoil the child”, but spankings make my son worse. Significantly so. He gets hysterical, beside himself and completely shuts down.

A strong-willed child would just as soon take the punishment and keep doing what they want to do.  I could spank my son all day long but what he wanted was to be held. I couldn’t cave in, hence the seat belt in the hoss cart until I could get him home.

I tried to explain all this but the stranger would have none of it.

Taking a step closer, she shook her head. “Listen, honey, I used to run a day care so I know. If you let him pitch this fit, he’ll never learn and will walk all over you.”

Let him pitch a fit? It took all of my self-control not to lash out in hurt and all my willpower to keep him in that seat. Every ounce of energy I expelled trying to stay firm with him was exhausting.

Then, she lowered the boom,  rubbing salt into the open wound. Lowering her voice, she looked over her shoulder. “Listen, hon, people are talking about what a bad mom you are. I just heard a lady over in jewelry say ‘What kind of a mom lets a kid who’s upset scream like that?'”

crying

I was speechless, too hurt and wounded to formulate a reply. Oh, I wanted to. I wanted to lash out in anger, to give vent to the volcano of emotions rolling inside of me. To tell this woman that she didn’t know my son at all. That she didn’t know me and that she had disrespected me in front of my own kids. I wanted to rail that, for a recovering people pleaser, the thought of what others think of me had paralyzed my walk with God for years and I was desperately trying to stay free from that bondage mentality again. I wanted to tell her that her words had wounded me beyond my ability to cope.

But my girls were watching. Observing. She was my elder and deserved respect, no matter how deeply she cut my Mommy-heart open.

Instead, I nodded and slowly wheeled my little ducks to the card section where I cried in front of the Hallmarks.

This is a day in the life of a mom raising a strong-willed child. I actually thought about titling this blog post “Apocalypse, Thy Name is Strong-Willed”. Sound a tad melodramatic? I would have thought so too…before I actually had a strong-willed child.

My adorable little boy’s stubborn, fiery will took me by surprise since we’d already had two sweet girls. My husband and I mistakenly thought we had this kid-raising thing somewhat down. But it shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I’m strong willed and my husband is as well. And although some days it doesn’t feel like it, it’s a good thing that we are the ones raising a bull-headed little boy. He won’t be able to run roughshod over us. I’ve told him many times and will likely say it a million more, “You’re not gonna win this one, kiddo. I’m more stubborn than you. So settle in and bring it on.”

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion.

On the days I’m ready to throw in the towel, I remind myself of this truth. When I feel my Mommy toolbox is depleted, I remind myself that God has a plan for this little guy. Honestly, rather than the day to day challenges of parenting, I tend to hurt more from the hastily flung barbs of my critics.

So how does an exhausted mom handle those who are happy to dole out unsolicited advice?

  1. Be respectful. As tempting as it might be, don’t respond in anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20) How you react to criticism teaches your children how to react to criticism. Don’t let your emotions choose for you. Knee-jerk reactions have eternal consequences. Breathe in, breathe out.
  1. Be teachable. prideful-peopleOften times people give advice because they have a trick or technique that worked for them or their child. It’s okay to listen. You aren’t obligated to put it into practice. As any parent of a strong-willed child knows, your stubborn kiddo might be trying to play by a different rule book. Trying something new could be extremely helpful. Or it could backfire big time. Scrap the diva mentality either way. It’s hard to have your pride nicked if it’s not inflated.
  1. Remind yourself that this phase won’t always last. Every time I’m tempted to think that my life will be a never-ending stream of crushed Cheerios, sleepless nights and temper tantrums, I remind myself that this phase of life will pass. Change. Yes, other phases will come and go. Some delightful. Some infuriating. That’s okay. This too shall pass…sometimes like a kidney stone but it will pass.
  1. Don’t try to cram your child into a mold that other people declare to be acceptable. moldTrying to force your child to be something he or she is not is crippling, both for you and them. God has a unique plan for their little lives and His plan does not include having them pretend to be someone else. Think about your goals in raising your little one. Is it to please people, to win their approval as being a great parent, or do you want your child to grow up to be a person who follows God with their whole heart and can live a happy, independent and productive life? The goal determines how you handle the little stuff…and consequently, how deeply you let that irritating know-it-all get under your skin.
  1. Remember God put you and your child together. Every time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory. And really, if I’m trying to do things in my own strength, I’m going to fall flat on my face anyways. But when I surrender each moment to Him, each decision and each of my unique little ones to Him, His strength will be made perfect in my weakness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9

It’s okay, exhausted parent of a stubbornly stubborn kiddo. Breathe in, breathe out. Love your child. Correct them. Stand strong. Don’t cave under pressure. And remember, when this life is over, you won’t stand before a jury of your peers. Just God. Living to please Him is all that matters.

I’d love to hear from you! How do you handle criticism? Are you the parent of a strong-willed child? What is the best or worst advice you’ve ever received? 

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The Preacher’s Kids Part 2: Don’t Kill the Guppies

by Tara Johnson

dead guppy

I was surprised seeing all the hands raised in the room. A room filled with inmates. I was surprised but not shocked.

When I asked the inmates at Tucker prison if there were any preacher’s kids in the audience, at least one sixth of those in attendance raised their hands, sheepish smiles ghosting their faces.

From PK to inmate. How does it happen? And why are preacher’s kids, those who have been raised in the faith, leaving their churches as adults?

Let’s review Part 1 of this blog series, The Fishbowl, The Glass House and Other Annoyingly Transparent Cages. What are the pros and cons of the PK life?

Advantages:

  1. Having a wide circle of friends from various churches and different places.
  2. Getting to see God move behind the scenes.
  3. Enjoy the material gifts and benefits when the church does something nice for the pastor.
  4. Being raised in church ingrains the truth early into hearts and minds.
  5. Accountability

Disadvantages:

  1. Moving often. 
  2.  Church members pulling their father away from them. 
  3.  People set higher standards of behavior for the preacher’s kids than they do their own.
  4. Being treated badly because someone is mad at their Dad.
  5. Interrupted vacation and family time.
  6. Living on a lower income than many of their friends.
  7. Constant criticism of their parents or bickering among the church members.

Although the reasons vary (and the last thing I want to do is stereotype preacher’s kids more than they already are), many of the PKs polled in research confessed deep scars from being raised in ministry. Not because their parents were horrible, not because the ministry was too taxing. Their predominant reason? The cruelty their parents faced from disgruntled and vindictive church members.

An angry nerdy woman.

Preacher’s kids see it all. They see the draining work, the exhausting schedule. They often have to give up special time with their parents so another person can be comforted. They see the tears, the confusion and hurt. And they often see the meanest side of people, church members who act one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week.

It’s a lot for a kid to take in, especially when you consider the child’s worldview, perception of God, and the ministry is still being formed.

What many folks forget is that being in the pastor’s family puts them and their children on the front lines of spiritual warfare. The enemy comes at them with all he’s got. Fiery darts, pain, exhaustion, misunderstandings, discouragement. It’s a nonstop battle and Satan does his best work among fighting church members. Eventually the pastor gets dragged in, someone becomes angry at him because they didn’t get their way and drama escalates. It’s almost so formulaic, it’s sad.

But the preacher’s kids don’t understand the ins and outs of Satan’s schemes. All they know is that their Dad or Mom is being attacked. In short, someone gets ticked off at the preacher and, let me say from experience, when someone is mad at the preacher, the PK is often treated with contempt as well.

pk

Hurtful words are flung like stones. Reputations shredded. Long buried wounds fester until the disease infects the church. The preacher’s kid is in the middle of all this, watching, wondering, worrying. Some begin to wonder if ministry is even worth it. What’s the point when people are so mean to each other? Others feel trapped, stuck in a cycle of trying to keep everybody happy or masking their true feelings with a facade of perfection so their father’s ministry won’t suffer. They try to live up to everyone’s expectations…a very hard load for little shoulders to carry and, I might add, an impossible task.

If enough of this kind of drama is seen on a regular basis, it’ll mess a kid up. So what happens when this child reaches adulthood? Those with deep scars and blistering burns leave without a backwards glance.

I personally know several PKs who left church once they were grown but the concern goes deeper than church attendance. These PKs abandoned the faith completely. They had children. Children who have never yet darkened the doors of a church or know a thing about the saving grace of Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these preacher’s kids are justified. Each person has to take responsibility for themselves. But the trend is heart breaking.

Is it right to ditch church because of bad experiences? No, not at all. God said He would receive His glory through the church. (Ephesians 3:21) Honestly, I’ve had bad experiences at grocery stores and restaurants and I usually still go back. We humans are good at picking and choosing what we’ll be offended about. People are people wherever you go. We’re a messy, cranky, broken lot. My concern in this blog isn’t to argue about the importance of serving in a church (although it is important) but instead my sore heart aches for those who are so wounded, they can no longer embrace what their parents gave their entire lives for.

How we treat people, even in our anger, matters. It matters a lot. And that includes how we treat our pastor. Little eyes are watching. Minds are being molded. We can do better, folks. Lives and souls are counting on it. The ripples of our behavior affect more than just ourselves. It reaches far into eternity.

So I’ve said all this to say: please don’t tap on the fishbowl. We really don’t want any dead guppies.

cat and fishbowl

The Fishbowl, the Glass house and Other Annoyingly Transparent Cages: The Life of the Preacher’s Kid

by Tara Johnson

They see much. They hear more than you think. And all of it leaves an indelible impression on their young hearts. Who am I speaking of? I’m talking about the preacher’s kid.

caution pk

Speaking as a PK, I can tell you that being on the ministry front lines is a unique experience. You see it all: the good, the bad and the…cranky. For most, being thrust into such a colorful and eye-opening existence is usually accompanied with, what I call, God’s coping mechanism: humor. Learn to laugh or ministry will eat you up.

You Know Being a PK has warped you when…

  1. You get excited about the church giving your family a food pounding because it’s the one time out of the year when you’ll be able to enjoy brand name cereal instead of the knock-offs.
  1. You constantly get in trouble for things the deacon’s kid thought up.
  1. You blame everything in your life on the deacons’ kids.
  1. Every time your family goes on vacation, you know it will doom some poor unsuspecting church member to an early death.
  1. You won’t go out with anyone on a date who hasn’t formed an opinion on pre, mid or post trib.
  1. You understand number five.
  1. You can speak “Christianese” with a skill rivaled only by Charles Spurgeon or D.L. Moody. If someone asks you to explain Ezekiel, you can totally fake your way through it.
  1. Upon hearing you’re a preacher’s kid, people naturally assume you are either a perfect specimen of Christianity, or you’re a rebellious, wild-spirited, hell-raising demon. (Not true. Well, not all the time.)
  1. Your parents encourage you to dress nicely for church, because, after all, we don’t want them taking up a love offering for us because our clothes are shabby, do we?
  1. You’re the first one to church and the last one to leave.

All joking aside, I love meeting other PKs. I love hearing them open up to the fun parts, and sometimes miserable parts of growing up in ministry. All of it is instructive, whether laughable or painful. All of it can bear fruit of wisdom and teach important life lessons.

fishbowl

I was one of the rare oddities that actually enjoyed being a PK. Well, most of the time. Just like anything in life, there are pros and cons. So whether you call it a fishbowl, a glass house or any other structure of visibility, we’re going to take a quick snapshot of what it’s like to live with hundreds of eyes on your every move.

What are the advantages of being the preacher’s kid?

  1. Having a wide circle of friends from various churches and different places.
  2. Getting to see God move behind the scenes.
  3. Enjoy the material gifts and benefits when the church does something nice for the pastor.
  4. Being raised in church ingrains the truth early into hearts and minds.
  5. Accountability

accountable

Some PKs might argue with me on this last one. Accountability can taste like a vile word but it’s really not. Learning to be responsible and set an example is always a good thing. The problem comes when accountability grows into a fishbowl. When you’re taught that approval is given based on your ability to maintain a lofty standard, it’s hard to break free of such a stifling, perfectionist mentality. A lot of preacher’s kids are inadvertently taught by the congregation that approval equals love…and nothing could be further from the truth. Perfectionism always shoves away grace.

In short, a lot of PKs believe the lie that performance is more important than anything else. Either that, or they run hard and fast from impossible expectations by acting out in defiance instead. Both responses are harmful.

Disadvantages:

  1. Moving often. Along with this comes fear of getting too close to someone at the risk of being forced apart by a move.
  2. Church members pulling their father away from them. The pastor’s kids are a ministry too. Be respectful of their family time.
  3. People set higher standards of behavior for the preacher’s kids than they do their own.
  4. Being treated badly because someone is mad at their Dad.
  5. Interrupted vacation and family time.
  6. Living on a lower income than many of their friends.
  7. Constant criticism of their parents or bickering among the church members. PKs often see the meanest side of people and it leaves lasting scars.

This is just a snapshot of the PK life. We’ll be digging much deeper in Part 2: Don’t Kill the Guppies. Stay tuned!

What other insights could you share about the ups and downs of the PK life? I’d love to hear from you!

Untied Shoelaces: Insecurity’s Scream

I could hear the fight from the trail below me as I climbed Pinnacle Mountain. Actually, everyone in the vicinity of the snaking path could hear the epic battle of wills between the frustrated father and his stubborn son on the crowded mountainside.

“Son, I mean it. Stop and tie your shoe.”

“No, I don’t want to.”

“You’re going to trip and get hurt.”

Silence as the determined boy marched past his father.

“Ethan, I mean it. Stop right now and tie your shoe. It’s an order.”

“I won’t!”

By now, the father is so angry he’s almost screaming. “Fine! If you fall and break your neck, it won’t be on me!”

Little Ethan huffed. “I’d rather break my neck than stop and tie my shoes.”

I could almost hear the exhausted father ripping his hair out at the roots. “Why? Why on earth won’t you just stop and tie your blasted shoe?”

Little Ethan turned, a scowl on his freckled face. “If I stop, everyone around us will think that I’m tired! That I’m a wimp! I’m not going to stop and let them think I’m not tough enough to climb up this mountain!”

The father scratched his head. “Maybe they’ll just think you needed to tie your shoe.”

Ethan shook his head. “No, it’s not worth the risk. I’d rather fall than anyone think that I’m a wimp.”

That, my friends, is rampant insecurity on display.

Have you ever been there? Insecurity makes us jealous. It makes us control-freaks. It causes us to wallow in suspiciousness. Insecurity births braggarts, fits of temper, infidelity, needing constant validation or the inability to be happy unless everyone around us is happy. Its nagging voice makes us think the worst of others, assigning them motives that don’t exist. In short, insecurity causes us to do the stupidest, and sometimes, most harmful things imaginable…not just to ourselves. It colors and stains every single relationship in our life.

Boiled down to it’s most fundamental existence is this: insecurity is a lie from Satan that screams, “You’re not good enough.”

 insecurity is loud

There is no louder scream than insecurity.

And there is no greater display of insecurity than when we compare ourselves to others. Have you ever heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy”? It’s true. Painfully so.

In my own life, these kinds of refrains are common: “If I could just sing like Mariah Carey… If I could only write like Francine Rivers… If I could just speak like Beth Moore…if I was as funny as Tim Hawkins…

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

The problem with insecurity in the life of the child of God is that it devalues a person He’s made for a glorious purpose. You.

“Your eyes saw my unformed body: all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) Before you ever took a breath, God had a distinct plan for your life and that plan did not include having you pretend to be someone else.

The world already has a Mariah Carey, a Francine Rivers, a Beth Moore and a Tim Hawkins. The plan for your life is distinct for you.

If you’ve been inspired to write a song, rejoice. God gave that unique idea to you. If a story is inside of you just begging to come out, be glad. For He gave that story to you. If you fear you are royally messing up as a parent and that things will never get better with your children, take a deep breath. He entrusted those precious lives to you.

My friends, it’s time to silence the screams of insecurity and replace them with God-worth.

God-worth is knowing Who we belong to. It’s grasping hold of the truth that Jesus thought you were so valuable, He went to the farthest lengths possible to save you. He would have rather died, died, than leave you in the dark.

That is true love. And it makes each of us more precious than all the silver and gold the world could contain.

Insecurity screams, “I’m not as good as _________.” But having a healthy God-worth says, “Another person’s talents and abilities does not diminish my own.” Insecurity shouts, “I have to be perfect or no one will accept me.” God worth whispers, “God’s unconditional love for me never wavers, whether I’m at my best or scraping bottom at my worst.”

If you’ve given your life to Jesus, you’re redeemed. Protected. Fought for. Sheltered. Precious. An heir. Royalty. Loved.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Cling tight to that truth, my friend.