It is not just about teaching our kids. They are teaching us often.
Stubborn. Adamant. Strong willed. These are a few words I would use to describe my kids.
And while it may seem as though I’m being negative — after all, these traits don’t sound admirable — I’m not. I love and adore my children.
I am proud to have children who are difficult.
That may sound strange. Raising willful, rigid children is a challenge.
My baby is not sleeping and says no constantly. He wags his finger in the air and throws his body on the floor. My 7-year-old can throw a lot of angry words. She is emotional and compassionate. She wears her heart on her sleeve.
“Being outspoken, determined, and tenacious isn’t a problem. It is a strength that will empower them.”
It will help them be strong and have a voice.
Here are seven lessons I have learned from my kids.
I was a meek and meager child. I was quiet and soft-spoken. I rarely raised my hand in class.
I went with the crowd, not because I wanted to, but because it was easy. Because I was terrified of confrontation.
I turned my eyes away from the streets and halls. I whispered things like “Excuse me” and “I\’m sorry” but didn\’t say “hi” as I passed. Never, ever, “hi.” The reason? I felt guilty for not doing something. I apologized for my actions.
“My daughter doesn’t do that. At all. She is teaching me to do the same. I am learning to apologize less and talk more.”
When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up, I say my daughter because it is true.
She is strong, smart, powerful, and confident. She is who she is.
She knows what she wants to do and eat. That is inspiring. She embraces the awkward. She is a good example of taking up space and being myself.
“My daughter and her friends had a blast playing together last week, and I can’t believe they said it was a blast. They sang. They were dancing. They played and swam. My daughter shrugged when one of her friends suggested a game. She said no.”
“Why? She wasn’t feeling it. My daughter and her friends just moved on, instead of causing a problem, because she didn’t want to. They found a way to enjoy themselves.”
“Do I expect this to always be the case? No. She can’t always get what she wants. I am proud of her for speaking up. She is able to use her voice and express her opinion.”
I have learned from my strong- willed children that the art of negotiation is a good one. Why? Having determined, spirited, and tenacious kids has taught me how to handle difficult situations with grace, and a little craftiness.
It has taught me how to negotiate. Having difficult children has reminded me that I need to let the little things go.
My son and daughter have taught me how to stop and pause. How to breathe and step back.
Things can go wrong when you have children who are stubborn.
My daughter and son shun dinner most nights and leave me bleary-eyed and sleep deprived. I have gotten to look at the stars because he is awake. I have had time to read and write and watch “The Office” on repeat, and I have gotten lots of mother-son time, which I enjoy.
“If you have a strong- willed child, you will always be strong- willed. You can’t change them. It is part of who they are.”
But their behavior may change you, in great and unexpected ways. Just be flexible, be patient, and go with the flow.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few. When her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.