I knew before my daughter was even born that we were going to be in for a wild ride. I was around 18 weeks pregnant, and had been feeling those sweet little butterfly kicks for a few weeks. I was walking down the street, talking to a coworker, when all of a sudden that girl MOVED. A little bump arced across the corner of my shirt, and I could feel her pompom-sized butt stretching out as far as fetusly possible, turning around, and settling back into a more comfortable position. “Uh oh,” I thought, “this one is going to be trouble.”
My daughter is what the parenting books politely describe as “spirited.” Spirited could also be described as strong-willed, hot-tempered, obstinate. She has stayed in her room for over an hour rather than change her diaper, loudly voicing her displeasure throughout. She has staged a mini hunger strike rather than try a bite of broccoli. She has fallen asleep against the door of her room while I hold the door shut, fighting against naptime.
As frustrating as it can be – and it is often unspeakably, maddeningly frustrating – I love having a spirited child. She knows what she wants and is willing to fight to get it, even if it is unattainable. (Sorry, no Nutella and jelly sandwiches for breakfast.) She constantly surprises me with her grit and determination – reaching the top of the play structure while older kids look on; strapping herself into her car seat by herself at age 2.5 (but oh my goodness, that was an excruciating 20 minutes). She is her own strongest advocate. She is also fiercely loving, loyal, curious and smart. And, despite being the middle child and the only girl in this family, there is not a sliver of a chance that she is going to get lost.
My greatest hope for my daughter is that she holds on to her spiritedness as she grows into womanhood. This world needs more women who can stand up for what they want, who aren’t afraid to strive for something that seems out of reach, who are comfortable saying no and have the conviction to stand by that.
So my goal, and my struggle, as I raise this spirited child of mine is to nurture that spiritedness while still maintaining the role of parent. I want her to feel heard, and to feel like her views matter. And, when warranted, I want to be flexible enough to accommodate her. For instance, if she wants to wear three skirts instead of just one skirt, well why not? The problem is that line gets slippery. She wants to wear her leopard print pajamas to school? Well, I guess so. They’re warm and they cover her body. She wants to wear just legwarmers and a t-shirt in January? Well…. At some point you’ve got to draw the line. And she is always looking for exactly where that line ends and trying to nudge it slightly further.
It is a tough job staying firm on those lines, especially knowing that resistance is likely to be met with a big emotional response. And honestly, I feel like I’m maybe 50-50 on making the right call. But I keep working at it. I don’t want her to think that she is in charge around here because, for crying out loud, she’s two years old. But I also don’t want her to feel disregarded. Because if she can embrace her fierceness and vulnerability, her power and conviction, she is going to get things done. She is going to take up space in this world.
She showed me at negative 22 weeks that she could move things much bigger than her – I have no doubt that if given the chance, she will move mountains.