She's Not What I Envisioned: My Strong-Willed Child

by Jennifer Craven
parenting strong-willed child personality development
ktaylorg / iStock

Looking back, I think it started the minute she was born. Her tiny body was thrust upon my chest and I peered down into her little wrinkly face and thought, “Who are you?” I didn’t recognize her at all.

Where’s her strawberry blonde peach fuzz? Where are the pink undertones in her complexion? If I look just like my mom, then surely my daughter would look like me.

Not so.

It was clear that as much as any newborn can resemble a parent hours after birth, she certainly didn’t resemble me.

She’s not what I envisioned.

That’s OK, I thought. She looks like her daddy. I see his face when I look at her, and that makes me happy. She can still be my little mini-me, I told myself, even if we don’t look alike.

It didn’t take long to realize that it wasn’t just her appearance that was in stark contrast to my naïve expectations. For one, she was—is—moody. Family members would comment, “Oh my, look at that expression!” An expression we affectionately came to call “The Stink Eye.” She’d give it and give it hard. “She’s got quite the personality doesn’t she?” outsiders would say, their underlying message coming across loud and clear: You’ve got your hands full with that one.

Over the years, all of the adjectives I would use to describe my girl have been nicely packaged into what experts refer to as “strong-willed.” I’m parenting a determined, headstrong toddler with the attitude of a teenager, rolled up into one petite 29-pound package.

She’s not what I envisioned.

What happened to the little mini-me I daydreamed about? Certainly daughters are supposed to be sweet, happy, amenable. They’re supposed to be miniature mommies to their younger siblings—caring and nurturing. Oh, how naïve a mom can be.

Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said that there haven’t been moments of embarrassment, disappointment even, in regards to my daughter’s temperament:

When I return from a day or two away, so anxious to sweep her up in my arms, and instead she refuses to let me near her.

When she wakes up from a solid 12-hour night of sleep, only to angrily tell me to leave her alone.

When she is difficult, defiant or sassy for no apparent reason.

When a friendly face says hello, and all they get in return is The Stink Eye.

She’s not what I envisioned.

I have found that it’s less about behavior and more about personality. I’ve learned that a child doesn’t have to be disobedient in order to have a less than cheery disposition. One might assume that she lacks proper discipline, or that our parenting is subpar. In fact, we run a tight household, where out-of-line behaviors are not acceptable and are met with appropriate consequences.

But how are you supposed to discipline something that is an inherent trait? Most of her characteristics don’t warrant discipline, but rather just understanding that this is simply who she is.

There are times when the sweet side I know exists within her emerges in full force, when she curls up on my lap, or when she kisses the top of her baby sister’s head—rare, yet powerful occurrences. Those moments swell my heart, and even though I might think, Why can’t she be like this all the time?—I try not to wish her into something she’s not.

In the end, I am discovering that the expectations to which I clung so tightly were in effect holding me back from truly embracing who my child is as a person—the good and the bad. Her unexpected qualities are what make her unique. Sure, she challenges me every day and tests my patience hourly. She also makes me pause and evaluate what it means to be a parent: unending love.

She’s not what I envisioned. But maybe that was on purpose. She’s taught me more about myself than I ever realized—acceptance, persistence, gratitude.

The truth is, I love that girl something fierce. She may not be exactly what my youthful mind envisioned, but she’s exactly who she’s meant to be. And she’s mine.