Good News: Your Strong-Willed, Stubborn Child Is More Likely To Be Successful

by Clint Edwards
pathompong24 / Shutterstock

We call it her asshole face. This is when my 7-year-old Norah tilts her head to the side, makes eye contact, and draws her lips to a straight line. Then she does whatever I just told her not to do.

I tell her not to drink more water before bed, and she gives me the asshole face and proceeds to drink more water. A few days ago, we were at my son’s basketball game. My wife told Norah not to go onto the other court with her friend, and Norah turned, gave her the asshole face, and kept walking.

Every time she gives me the asshole face, I tell her to cut the crap. “Don’t look at me like that,” I say. “Who do you think you are, kid?” And sure enough, she does it anyway.

Like all children, Norah is complicated. But she’s hands down the most stubborn of our three children. She enjoys getting her own way. And she pushes the limits for it.

Before becoming a parent, I used to listen to my older sister complain about her daughter — how she never listened, always talked back, and thought she was the boss. I told her that it just showed that her daughter was becoming a strong-willed woman and that was a good thing.

“You make her out to be a jerk,” I would say. “She’s going to grow up and become a CEO or a senator. I think that it’s awesome.” Melissa gave me a look that seemed to say “you have no idea what you are talking about.”

Turns out, however, and unfortunately, I did know what I was talking about. According to a 2015 study published by the American Psychological Association, stubborn children who defy authority are more likely to become academic overachievers and high-earning adults.

I know. This is a tough pill to swallow. But here we are.

The study looked at children between the ages of 8 and 12 years old. These children were assessed for various personality traits such as academic conscientiousness, entitlement, and most importantly, defiance. Forty years later, the researchers checked back in on these children, now adults, to see how they had evolved. And like all things with parenting, it was a no-win situation. The rule-breaking and defiance of parental authority turned out to be the best predictor of earning high income as an adult.

So what does this mean for me, the father of a delightfully stubborn girl? I suppose it means there is hope (I’m trying to be optimistic here). Like any parent, my overall goal is for my little girl to go grow up to be a successful and independent woman. According to this study, she is well on her way.

Now, keep in mind that the study doesn’t state why there is such a correlation between stubbornness in children and later success. In a Time article reporting on the study, Donna Gorman explains that “the authors postulate that such children might be more competitive in the classroom, leading to better grades. They might be more demanding as adults; when locked in salary negotiations, they may be the ones who demand more. They may be more willing to fight for their own financial interests, even at the risk of annoying friends and colleagues.”

The fact is, all of these qualities are wonderful in adults, but infuriating and annoying in children. So when you see some young child stomping their feet at Target and you think to yourself, “That kid needs to learn some respect,” what you actually need to do is not judge the parent because that’s a dick move. Instead, you need to say, “That kid is probably going to be someone’s boss.”

I will admit, though, I do take comfort in this study. There are times I’ve stayed up late thinking about my little girl and wondering who she will become. I wonder if she will ever grow out of her asshole face. If she will ever stop talking back, stomping her foot, or slamming doors. However, I suppose I should be thinking instead about all the doors she will be stubborn enough to force open.

In a world of inequality between men and women, where salaries are not equal and the glass ceiling for women is too visible, I can’t help but realize that if anyone can break down the status quo, it’s my hotheaded and flagrantly stubborn daughter.

And when I think about it that way, I feel a little better about this whole parenting gig. The thing is, raising children is a huge gamble. Like most parents, I’m constantly wondering if I’m doing it wrong. I worry that I’m going to make some misstep as a parent, and bam, it will set off a chain reaction resulting in my child turning into some sort of a city-park flasher, or worse, a reality TV star.

But studies like this bring me comfort. It helps me know that although she’s difficult for us to handle now, this all might be part of some grand plan that ignites her amazingly successful future.

So, those of you with stubborn, iron-willed children, those with the foot-stomping, rule-bending, asshole-face-giving little kids, don’t fret too much. If this study is accurate, it’s only temporary. Eventually that stubborn child will make you so proud that all of those infuriating days will be worth it.

Lord help us.