On Being The Stubborn Parent Of A Stubborn Child

by Sara Farrell Baker
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Let me paint you a picture.

It was time to put my 2-year-old daughter down for a nap. As I scooped her up, she lost her shit. Her body went stiff and she threw her arms up, assuming the position needed to slide right out of my arms like a greased-up watermelon.

I’m not new to this game, so I maintained my grip and was prepared for that move. Out of frustration at her toddler plan having been thwarted, she head-butted me in the nose. The pain made my eyes water immediately, and I saw red and stars at the same time. Sitting her down on my lap, I told her she needed to say she was sorry for hurting me.

The crying from my daughter stopped as quickly as it started. She furrowed her brow and looked this way and that way, everywhere but at my eyes. This is how she signals that a battle of wills is beginning. I dug my heels in and got ready.

I am a stubborn person. And this is the point in the story where I find out what kind of person you are. If you are somewhat level-headed and flexible, you’re probably arching an eyebrow and wondering what the hell kind of unhinged nonsense is about to go down between a mother and her child who can’t wipe her own ass but is still clearly running the show.

If you are like me, you’ve just straightened up in your chair and are cheering me on to not give in, lest I create the next generation that is sure to be twice as bad as what you think of millennials.

And if you are a stubborn person with a stubborn child, you are likely shaking your head and sighing because you know I’m in for a 40-minute standoff with my toddler before I even tell you I had a 40-minute standoff with my toddler.

In the beginning of this journey, I thought I could just outlast my daughter. I’m the grown-up, after all. Giving in or letting her win isn’t going to teach her anything and then she will walk all over me. What I didn’t realize at the time is that no one outlasts a toddler. They do not have shit-else to do when it comes to tests of emotional fortitude besides lay siege to the parent in front of them. My daughter’s ability to hyper-focus on my destruction has led me to feel genuine sympathy for our nation’s adversaries should she ever join the military.

Being a stubborn parent tends to create more battles than we like to admit to anyone. But being a stubborn parent with a stubborn child — one who comes out of the womb firmly believing that every hill they encounter is their hill to die on — creates more battles than we want to admit even to ourselves.

A huge aspect of the general ethos of parenting is finding teachable moments. But stubborn kids don’t want to learn from teachable moments, and no one is going to make them. And if you think you can, well, they are going to hold their breath until they pass out and teach you something.

For example, the “something” I have learned is that I am a giant pain in the ass and was probably not the most fun creature to raise. I’ve learned this because every time I call my mom to vent or laugh-cry about my child trying to put me in an early, warm, and inviting grave, my mom laughs at me. Like, literally laughs at me.

And not in a sweet “Oh, this too shall pass, my darling” sort of way. But in a “You finally have an inkling of an idea of what I went through to raise you and it’s only year two. The shit does not smell rosier as the years plug on and payback sure is a bitch” sort of way. I finally get why every time she told me she wished I would have a child just like me one day, she sounded like she really, really meant it.

I am also learning to choose my battles. There are so many potential battles. Looking back on my own childhood, I can remember my mother saying that nothing could make me do anything I didn’t want. I felt pride as I soaked up what felt like a clear victory. As an adult, I can fully own what a stubborn pain in the ass I had to be for my mom to come to that conclusion and for her to be so comfortable in admitting it to others.

And while my daughter is only 2, I have come to that realization about her as well. If I let every little thing turn into a fight, there are going to be more 40-minute standoffs in my day than allowed by the normal constraints of space and time. I can’t even approach the little things anymore because the payoff versus the effort is simply not worth it. So many of the things I used to think were the big things are now little things.

What I consider to be the big things is now a small list of actual big things. Issues involving safety or kindness are non-negotiable. I am in for many more 40-minute standoffs about learning how to say sorry. But having to abandon some of my own stubbornness has also led to a surge in creativity. The aforementioned stretch of hell finally ended when I shook my daughter’s hand, then thanked her for giving me an “I’m sorry” handshake. She was confused for a second, then smiled and apologized before climbing off my lap and going on her merry way.

My win that particular day was very small and inconsequential because I know she is not any more likely to apologize the next time she head-butts me. I know there is no foreseeable path to a less stubborn child. I can try my best to teach her right and wrong so she doesn’t grow up to be a total dick. But she is who she is, and I guess I can appreciate that she has a strong sense of what she is and isn’t willing to do at such a young age. Maybe I can find comfort in her strong will contributing to her growth as a strong woman. She will take no shit, and I find comfort in that.

At the very least, I can outdo my own mother and curse my daughter with two children just like her one day. When I receive a frustrated phone call about a two-hour fight with her child about wearing pants, I will laugh. A sense of understanding and dread will come over her. And we will both know the debt has been paid.