I have a son.
Not just any son. A red-headed, particular, fiery son.
I have heard many parents refer to their children as strong-willed. It is a worry. A diagnosis. It’s an affliction. We read books on how to deal with a strong-willed child.
Disclaimer: I am not a great parent. I lose my temper. I focus on the wrong things. I push too hard. I give at the wrong times. And, I often sit around destroying myself, afterward.
You see, I am a strong-willed child, all grown up.
Strong-willed kids are aware of the wake they leave behind them, at least as they get older. I don’t remember a time as a child that I was not confident that I could influence the world around me, both positively and for destruction.
I’ll often refer to an exchange with Ryder as a power-struggle.
But, then. I remember.
I remember being SO FRUSTRATED as a kid because I just wanted to be be understood. But, instead, I sat in my room to calm down.
I conveniently have these moments of remembering when I have just put Ryder in his room to CALM DOWN. “When you’re nice, you can come out,” is what I’ve been coached to tell him.
He doesn’t feel mean. He isn’t living in a world of black and white and nice and mean.
He is overwhelmed with all the feeling God put inside him and has no clue how to feel it all at once.
My job, as his parent is not (though I make it this often) behavior modification.
I know from the fail of legalistic faith in my own life that this approach will never work.
If he doesn’t understand, it will never be inside of him. If he is not UNDERSTOOD, I will never get to know what is inside of him.
That’s not a risk I’m willing to take for the sake of any high road. I don’t want to miss knowing his heart because I am concerned he is throwing a fit in front of my friends.
I’m actually convinced that as he feels more known, he will react less and less.
I think fear of judgement is 100% learned.
When Ryder tells me no, or reacts in a moment, he doesn’t even care a little bit about how I will see him.
Though I have noticed, as he has gotten older, the introduction of shame into his little heart.
I don’t know who put it there, but it breaks my heart to see him struggle bringing his “darkness” (usually something of mine he broke) into the light.
The interesting thing is this: I think shame and fear of judgement are 2 different things – and both are destructive.
Let’s say judgement is the interpretation of a moment that can shift my standing with the judge.
It’s not that Ryder doesn’t believe judgement exists. It’s that he doesn’t fear it. He knows when he has been wrong and he doesn’t want to continue in wrong thinking. That’s when I see his shame. He beats himself up, the same way I do when I have been wrong.
One convenient thing about having a strong-willed child is Ryder has big reactions. It’s easy to see what works him up outside, therefore, what he is struggling with inside.
Cue a quick look at the triggers of Ryder Ezekiel (and I think all of us):
1: Not being understood.
He wants to tell me everything inside his little overloaded brain. If I tell him “no” to a desire, he is convinced that I misunderstood his intention. Clearly, if I just understood I would agree with him.
“Mom, take it away! Take the consequences AWAY!” He generally hates the consequence, more than he wants the wrong thing.
I want to wager, if you are like me, that we have lived our entire lives claiming to hate and be against judgement, but we actually hate and fear consequence. Natural or other-wise.
Countless are the times I have been called out for something hurtful I have done and I pull out my ever-steady protector, “Please don’t judge me or my intentions.”
It silences us.
“Do not judge me.” That’s not what we mean, at all.
“Do not make me consider the result of my action or inaction.” That’s what I mean.
I’m content in my own head. I’m peaceful when I get everything I want.
I am a 5-year-old strong-willed child, just waiting to blow up when you choose the wrong color bowl for me. When you put the WRONG WORDS in my mouth.
When you misunderstand me.
You see, I think we deeply desire to be known and understood MORE than we fear being judged.
Most of us are all too aware of our standing with God and our brother, but are vastly insecure in how deeply understood we truly are.
Ryder wants me to ask him his desires and hopes. He wants me to know that he really wants to wear his Seahawks jersey 7 days in a row. Once I know, he is more than willing to hear different direction.
I want to hear my son, so he doesn’t silence the voices of others that would attempt to lead him in the future.
I admire his strong will. It will take him places he could not imagine, but I pray for humility in his growth. I pray that he will slow down to hear voices of wisdom in his life.
I pray that the lessons I have learned and will continue to learn will be valuable to him.
I want him to value consequence and growth. So, I will go first.
Because, I am a strong-willed child, all grown up, and I should throw far fewer fits in my life . . .