The Burden and Blessing of the Strong-Willed Child

[Note: This essay first appeared on Mom Mentor.]

Sobbing, I sat on the floor against 4-year-old Jordan’s closed bedroom door. “Let me out!” he screamed, hitting and kicking the door so hard it shook my body. “You’re a bad mommy!

How did I get here? I asked myself. Other desperate thoughts darted through my mind: God, help me. What if I’m scarring my child for life? No one understands.

Like many first-time moms, before my oldest son was born, I had a clear image of my future. I’d pictured a happy, intelligent child who would love and obey me with a sunny attitude. I’d also imagined I would be patient, kind, and lovingly firm. Ever the optimist, I’d even planned on never yelling or losing control with my kids.

Jordan took a grenade to those ideas within the first few days of his arrival. He had trouble nursing, colic, and lots of ear infections. He slept intermittently and lightly, and I ended up with Postpartum Depression. Every day seemed to last for months.

Though medicine and biblical counseling helped me through the initial frightening weeks of motherhood, my world shattered again when Jordy reached toddlerhood. His strong will–and mine–clashed hourly. Many days, my husband Carey came home to find both of us in tears. I remember one particularly black day when I’d tried every trick in my book and gotten nowhere. I came very close to slapping Jordy, and it shook me.

At the time, I didn’t know anyone who had experienced “the strong-willed child” phenomenon, and the Internet was in its infancy. I felt horribly alone. Carey worked long hours, and I often felt like running out the door screaming. My guilt was overwhelming, too. During those dark years, I loved Jordan yet harbored immense anger and resentment toward him.

I felt like my child had hijacked my life and taken control of it. It was a scary, overwhelming season.

Wasn’t motherhood supposed to be my highest calling and deepest joy? Weren’t the other women in my church and at the grocery store saying, “Treasure them when they’re little, dear. The years will fly by and you’ll miss these days.”

I suspected I was defective as a mother. I even suspected God disapproved of my parenting.

After all, some days I couldn’t wait for Jordan to grow up. I was sad, weary, and beyond frustrated.

Finally, my mother sent me a CD (this was before MP3’s) of an interview with a parenting expert about strong-willed children. As I listened, I cried and cried. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone or crazy.

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God used that interview to show me that Jordan was a particular brand of child, and God picked me to be his mother for a reason. For the first time in many months, I felt hope. If we could channel my son’s will and direct it towards something good, he might one day be able to resist peer pressure–and could even become a leader.

Things didn’t change overnight, at least not with Jordy’s behavior. Instead, my perspective shifted, and I began to share my struggles with a prayer group and other moms, who helped me persevere. My husband and I prayed together for wisdom, threw typical parenting advice out the window, and used more creative tactics and natural consequences to capture Jordan’s heart and bind it to ours and the Lord’s. I learned his “love language” was quality time, and so I planned weekly fun outings for the two of us. We went to a theme park, attended a local musical, and took a road trip. His dad did the same, instituting guys-only time (called “Funday Mondays” because Carey had that day off work).

Ever-so-slowly, our son grew in obedience. One evening while we read and cuddled before bed, seven-year-old Jordy asked me about how to give his life to Jesus. I will forever be grateful that God allowed me to lead a combative and rebellious boy in a prayer of repentance and surrender.

By the time Jordy was nine or ten, I realized I was having fun parenting him. What a blessing! By age twelve, he was a witty, intelligent young man with a heart for the underdog (typical of many strong-willed children). In high school, he played drums for his youth praise band, joined the drum corps at school, and served on a youth anti-substance abuse council.

He wasn’t, and isn’t, perfect. Of course, neither is my parenting. And the teen years were pretty rough at times. However, this last year, Jordan turned 22 and moved out of our home, probably for good.

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Dear reader, I miss him. He makes me laugh and think, and I love it when he comes to visit. I wish he called me more. However, I’m grateful he is making his own way in the world with creative friends and a tender heart.


If you are in the middle of raising a strong-willed kid, I want you to know there is hope. Pray for God to give you a support network, and don’t be afraid of asking for help. Seek out biblical wisdom and helpful resources. Ask God to give you the will to keep moving towards your child in love–even when they reject or mistreat you.

Finally, consider what author/speaker Debbie Williams wrote in The Plan A-Mom in a Plan-B World: “Perhaps you’ve never thought of Jesus as being a strong-willed child. I beg to differ…Jesus’ strong will is evident not only in what He did but also in what He didn’t do. He’s our model of a strong-willed individual standing against fleshly desires and being obedient to His Father’s will.”

Take heart, momma. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel–and it isn’t a train.

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