There are some battles that I always determined to win. There are some that I always felt could be negotiable. And there are some that I never expected to fight, most of which I have come away waving the white flag.
I’m not sure how the thought escaped me that I may have a child with a very different personality than mine. In my beautiful, peaceful, serene dreams of parenthood before I ever had a baby, my children were always compatible with my personality. Sure, we would have to establish discipline and rules, but after that, we would always get along. Downright smooth sailing.
Enter: my child with a completely different personality than me.
If you’ve read any of my posts about muddling through discipline with my two year old, you may have picked up on this before I ever did. But once I realized it, life is a whole new world. Not
usually always in an easy way, but now I’m trying to approach things differently to help us both to thrive instead of clash over and over and over.
Ok, I admit. We sometimes still clash over and over and over. But now I can approach the clashes (or aftermath) with some levelheadedness and solutions instead of feeling completely helpless. This is what I’m trying to do:
1. Realize my child is an individual, not an intentional source of conflict. This means that often the way she is acting is because she’s wired differently than me. Even though our personalities may clash, her actions and reactions aren’t necessarily always an attempt to buck my authority. In the same way that I may not understand why she reacts to something a certain way, she may not understand why I’m acting or disciplining this way either. This potential for misunderstanding has led to so many huge outbursts between us that could have been avoided had I stopped to remember that this approach is actually part of how she is wired. When I realize that she isn’t (always) trying to just be a little stink to me, then I can be more patient and gracious in how I respond.
2. Do my research. Once I realized that Norah is not only the namesake of my sister, but also her carbon copy, I was able to pinpoint so much of why we struggle. As kids, my sister and I fought like cats, but after we learned how to relate to each other in high school and adulthood, we have been able to become very close. I’ve spent several a long conversation with her on how her personality works, what makes it tick, and how to get through on a level that make sense and sticks. Knowing and understanding the aspects of a personality that seems to foreign to me has helped me to recognize when these triggers pop up and how to approach them so they don’t explode. There are quite a few books out there about how to determine your child’s personality, as well as free online Myers-Briggs and other types of personality tests. I’m planning to read and do some of these things as Norah gets older to help me better understand her as she solidifies more of her personality.
3. Realize the strengths of her personality, and celebrate and encourage them. Sometimes the strengths of another personality can show up in unmanaged or rough ways. Like a diamond that isn’t always beautiful in the middle of the rough, these strengths have to be worked on in order to be used well. Sometimes, they are downright frustrating to me because I don’t understand them well. But choosing to recognize them as strengths, instead of seeing them as conflict and trying to shut them down because they don’t match with my personality, allows me to invest in the person God created my child to be. Instead of creating patterns of frustration and negativity in her, I can encourage her to walk in her strengths within healthy boundaries. For example, it’s a big deal when she feels wronged. Not only does she outburst, but she wants the wrong to be righted. This can be a huge challenge when she is so focused on the wrong being atoned for, and it can be frustrating. Until I remember that it isn’t just that she wants it to be fixed, it’s that her personality is justice oriented. If I realize that being justice oriented can be an asset to her and that it also is accompanied by a bigger heart of compassion for those who are being wronged than any I could ever muster, then I can see the beauty of that diamond in the middle of the current rough and work toward drawing it out instead of throwing it out.
4. Discipline based on building character. I try to do this anyway, but with a conflicting personality, it helps me to focus on what to discipline for, instead of disciplining whenever we have a clash. We want to build solid, godly character into our kids – respect, responsibility, kindness, patience, a good work ethic, etc. Because this is our goal, we try to tailor our discipline for building those things, choosing character battles instead of, say, fashion or food battles. I never expected to have such a struggle over clothes and hair with my daughter – I always thought I would let her choose but still have the influence to help things, you know, match. But often we struggle because she wants to pick the thing that I specifically don’t want or like just because I don’t want or like it. This especially drove me crazy on Sundays. Seriously, who lets their daughter wear jeggings and tennis shoes with dress socks under a frilly pink dress, without combed hair to church? Me, apparently. I finally let go and don’t even give an opinion about her clothes anymore because it isn’t worth it. As long as her attitude toward me isn’t ugly or spiteful, I’ll wave my white flag for fashion and not even think about a time out for not wearing matching clothes to church. On the other hand, if she decides to scream ugly words at one of us, we discipline for treating us wrongly.
5. Recognize the pitfalls of my own personality, and work toward growth in those areas. There are so many things I struggle with, and the weaknesses of my own temperament are often exposed when we are in a conflict. Just because I’m the mom doesn’t mean I am always right or always deal with things rightly. I have to be careful not to teach my kids weakness in these areas as well. For example, I have a tendency to struggle with fear. My personality tends to look at things through a lens of disaster preparation. But to my wild and carefree two year old, my constant irrational warnings (“don’t climb on that, you can fall and get tangled and we’d have to call the fire department to cut you free!”) can implant a fearful tendency that would normally be absent in her personality. By seeing both of our strengths and weaknesses realistically, I can tailor my responses to help teach her strength in areas where where she is weak, and receive from her where she can really impart strength into my weaknesses. Because, honestly, I could really benefit from some of that wild and carefree spirit.
Walking in peace with our kids often means making sacrifices for them. Sacrificing our time and energy to learn about who they are and how they work can only be a benefit to our relationships and to their futures. It’s my goal to invest my heart into each of my children, tailoring my interactions with them to show them their value to me. So far each one is very different from me and from each other, but that just means we reap a beautiful complexity in our family, one that speaks volumes to a creative God. I want to encourage that complexity instead of stifle it and celebrate our differences instead of bemoan them. Even if that does mean going to church with dress socks with tennis shoes.