I Lost

Sunday morning, I decided to take all four kids to our (new) church by myself. It was an act born out of desperation as much as dedication. We haven’t been to church for almost a month, due to moving, bad weather and illness. I miss that set-apart time with God, the chance to physically do something to demonstrate the blessing of a fresh start. So today, even though I knew it would be challenging, I decided to go.

The morning started off fairly well. Corey left for a business trip. The kids and I weren’t rushed. We left for church with time to spare, and I even managed to pep talk Natalie into attending Sunday school at the new church for the first time.

The trouble began when I started to check Natalie and Connor in to their classes. Connor had been to Sunday school at the new church before. But Sunday, when I tried to hand him a name tag, he balked. “I’m not going to Sunday school,” he said, tight with both fear and anger. “Yes, you are buddy,” I said, with an amazingly calm voice. (I was praying like crazy.) “I’m all by myself today, and I’m taking Kieran with me to church because he’s tired. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay the whole service, and I don’t want to leave you alone in the sanctuary or drag you around with me. So today, I need you to go to Sunday school.”

“I’m not going!” he reiterated, and ran around a corner.

Natalie, with tears in her eyes, tried to grab his hand. “I’m going to Sunday school today, Connor. I’m scared. Won’t you come with me?”

“No! I’m not going!” he barked, swatting off her advances.

I thought maybe time alone would help him calm down. So I walked Natalie to her small group, made the appropriate introductions and got her (nervously) settled.

I returned to the lobby to talk to Connor. Things went from bad to worse. He ran away from me, refused to look me in the eye, pulled away from me when I tried to take his hand. I ended up dragging him (holding Kieran in the other arm) into the back of the group Sunday school room (as he clawed at the door frame and carpet) to talk.

“What is the deal, Connor? What is going on? Why don’t you want to go to Sunday school?" (Still praying like crazy, fighting the frustration threatening to spill out.)

“It’s boring! I’m not going!” was the only reply I could get.

I did what I could with consequences. I took away his computer time. I reminded him that his Dad would be hearing about this episode, and that he would exercise his own consequences when he comes home on Tuesday. Nothing mattered. Nothing changed.

I was backed into a corner. (And Connor was literally in a corner, sitting crossed and angry, kicking at the wall and knocking over garbage cans within reach.) Should I leave him a room where I don’t know the adults and let them deal with his attitude? (Past experience would show he would stay in that corner the whole hour, scowling, not responding to anyone no matter the kindness showed him.) Or should I relent and let him come to church with me, the better to spare the childcare workers his tantrum?

I relented. I told him he could come to “big church” with me, but that he would sit on his behind the whole hour and not doing anything other than listen.

Which he did. He fidgeted and he made goofy faces at Kieran, but he did sit. He did obey.

But I hate that I lost the battle. I am afraid I reinforced his subconscious belief that he can throw a tantrum and get his way, that obedience is conditional, that he is stronger than me.

I lost. He lost.

How do I win with a strong-willed child?


  1. I don't have any answers. Just empathy. More often then not, I'm on my own with the kids at our "new" church. We've been going for 5 months, but my oldest (Connor's age) still complains vigorously about his class. I can't imagine going it solo with 4 kids AND having to deal with the melt down. It's so, so hard.
    I think you handled it wisely, and I don't think you lost. You didn't lose your cool, you were clear about consequences, and you chose based on what was wise for the teachers and for your family as a whole. I think you honored God as best you could through the situation and believe He's going to use your efforts (no matter how much you feel like they fall short) to bring about His good work in Connor. He promises that much, and more.
    Hang in there, friend!

  2. I am right there with you, lady. I have basically been a single parent since the beginning of December, with Husband working overtime and doing renovations at the new house. Anja has really been giving me a run for my money, and it's hard to know (especially in public) how to reinforce the importance of authority while keeping cool. I have done what I read of in a book awhile ago, and prayed over Anja at night that the Holy Spirit would use that strong will for God's purposes someday. But it's hard to see the fruit in the heat of such battles. To God's credit, even though she told us the entire way to church today that she would NOT be going to Sunday School and that she hated it, she went quite obediently when we got there.

  3. I wouldn't necessarily qualify that as a loss, either. You told him there would be consequences, and he accepted that, and you moved on, while establishing clear ground rules for under what circumstances he was allowed to come in with you.

    Of course, I have two extremely strong-willed children who regularly have me tearing out my hair, so I'm not sure why I'm even venturing to speak on this matter!

  4. I'm so sorry you went through that. I echo what the others have said. I would consider it a loss if you would have said "Fine, come with me, just quit crying!" Consequences, boundaries in "big church" etc., still placed you in control.

    I bet he still knows you are the Mom. And the Boss of him.

  5. Hi Kelly, I don't often comment but I always enjoy your posts, your honesty is refreshing and reassuring for the rest of us.

    I wouldn't say you lost. I don't think there is a win/loose here. It was a very difficult situation and you did the best you could, being on your own with a baby in tow. You still made him sit in church quietly and he did. If you let him get his will that would have probably meant an hour in the playground instead of church ;) but seriously, don't be too hard on yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back instead for keeping your calm given the difficult circumstances.

    2 of my kids are very strong-willed and I know it's not easy. Aim for a win/win and I think that's what you got.

  6. Gosh this is the really hard part of being a parent! One of my kids in particular is going through this phase where if I say anything absolute he will dig his feet in and oppose me. And seriously, there are only so many ways one can skirt the issue: you must try your vegetables, you must brush your teeth and you must not push your brother down. That's just the way life is. But I get really sick of getting into these power struggles because he will back me into a wall and call my bluff EVERY TIME. It's a very, very hard line to walk and I never know if I'm doing it right.

    I don't think you lost either. My DH works in the field of s/x assault on children so these topics are in the forefront of our minds constantly. If a kid says they're uncomfortable in a situation I think you *have* to listen to them, take them seriously and allow them to take actions to make them feel safe. I don't think you can "win" a battle where you exert your will over your child and force them to do something that doesn't feel right to them. Again, there is always this fine that I always struggle with between whether I'm letting them walk all over me or if I was wrong to try and exert control in the first place. In the end he behaved in church, which is what you asked, so I think you "won" - as much as a parent ever wins these things :) I think it would be good to talk with him over the week and have him do a gut check and see what his issue is then work out ahead of time an arrangement that works for both of you.

  7. And just to clarify - I'm in no way insinuating that something is happening at your church now. My point is that we need to teach our kids to trust their guts and that we take their gut feelings seriously. Using our authority to force our kids to override their feelings may be a short term win, but it could be a bad long term loss. Which is only to say that I know that parenting is never that cut and dry. I have 4 kids too! This is a hard job :)

  8. We have 7 children and 3 of the are VERY strong willed.
    I feel like I correct them 24-7.
    Hard and tiring at times, but the effort will pay off.
    Be patient and be consistent- This to Shall Pass.
    Years from now you will tell Conner stories of tantrums and kicking trash cans...and he will not believe you :)
    My 17 year old thinks we make things up about him.

  9. I agree with the other posters. It might be that he is just ready for big church.

    The only thing that I might suggest is negotiation. Say, if you go sit in Sunday School for 10 minutes, and you still do not want to stay, then you may come with me. But you must try it first.

    I doubt he would want to stay that time, but next week, who knows?

    Just ask him why he doesn't want to go and make accommodations if possible.

    Don't beat yourself up Momma. Some days we're awesome disciplinarians. Some day we just make it through the day. The good thing about kids is they ALWAYS give us the chance for a do-over :)

  10. Please go easy on yourself, you did it right. I don't know the aanswer, but I really don't think you lost. As a strong willed child myself, what jumped out at me is that he wasn't tellingyou what was really going on. (NOT your fault!) That has to be one of the biggest struggles between a swc & his/her parents, usually they are acting out of hurt or fear, but how can a parent respond appropriately when the child refuses to communicate honestly? I wish I had the answer, all I have are years of epic battle scars from caring, frustrated parents & this stubborn, sensitive heart. Hang tight mama, just keep loving him & stay consistent & make sure he always knows you are all on the same team. Even the toughest of us usually turn out ok. :)

  11. I say "you won"
    You maintained a calm disposition and expressed your expectations for big church, which he complied with - yeah!!! Strong willed children - you know the drill - we (parents) must choose our battles carefully. You did just that!

  12. Girl, that is hard stuff. I don't know what else to say.

  13. I don't have any answers for you, my first thought is to wonder if something else was going on emotionally with him? Was he missing his dad, who had just left?

  14. Oh gosh Kelly. Do we live twin lives? We are going through some of the same struggles, but with our 3 year old. Her strong will has rocked our world. I'm praying for grace and guidance for us.

  15. Have you ever heard of taking him to the bathroom and giving him a spanking? Works wonders with our children.

  16. Maybe since this is somewhat common, you should try to talk to him about it before you leave for church. Remind him about his behavior and consequences and how it hurt you and you don't enjoy punishing him. Ask him why he doesn't like it beforehand and come up with a plan. I know its easier said than done but it's definitely worth a shot. Every child is different and needs different attention than the other. Try to figure out what sort of attention he needs. And prayer of course! Good luck! Parenting is always such an adventure! :)