Born This Way: Raising A Strong-Willed Child From Day One

This is NOT my strong-willed daughter, though she might as well be.

You've heard that kids often act worst for their families, saving all their venom for the ones they love most, right? Well, according to that theory, my daughter loves me more than anyone who’s ever been loved in the history of love, multiplied by a million-ba-jillion.

Lately, we butt heads on just about everything. She’s strong-willed, direct, brilliant, and terrifying. She amazes me with her creativity, her writing skills, and her passion for animals (though she “forgets” to clean her rabbit’s cage until the stench of ammonia leaves me gagging).

Her personality was obvious at 37 weeks of gestation when an ultrasound revealed she was breech: butt first, pike position, hands and toes mingled together up near my throat (okay, my ribs). Two doctors performed a procedure called an external version in which they “flipped” her into the proper delivery position by pressing on my stomach. Beforehand, the doctors prepared me. "It'll be a painful procedure," they stressed. They also advised me to pack a suitcase since many women go into labor following the aggressive manipulation of a near-term fetus.

I’d packed my bag, made childcare arrangements for our then two-year-old toddler, and hoped for painkillers…but to my utter amazement, the procedure was painless and took less than five minutes. My husband and I were then sent home to wait out the last three weeks of the pregnancy. While we were relieved beyond words that everything went so smoothly, I was crushed not to get to meet my new baby a little early. To date, those last three weeks of the pregnancy were the longest weeks I’ve ever endured.

As were the additional five days that followed her due date. Apparently, she just wasn’t ready.

When the contractions finally began and I settled into a labor and delivery room, the epidural came as blessed relief... until my daughter "prevented" her own entrance: her left forearm was twirled completely around in its socket and splayed across her face, as if to say, “I’m NOT heading out of here and you CANNOT make me.”

We have a drama queen in the delivery room.

My poor husband wiped the sweat off my forehead and (thankfully) never commented on the fact I’d somehow self-administered all the available narcotics in my pain pump in less than an hour.

You’ve heard of women begging for epidurals, right? I actually begged for a C-section, because this baby was astounding in her prenatal stubbornness. She wore me down before I’d even met her. The doctors used every imaginable tool to extract her, and still they were confounded. Vacuums, forceps, you name it. Every available nurse, aide and med student tried to get that baby out. I think someone even called in a social worker to make sure I didn’t lose it.

I truly couldn't wait to meet this child. Two years earlier, her brother had arrived two weeks early and his delivery, while typical, was fraught with my own first-time-mother anxiety. This second delivery, I believed, should go much smoother, particularly since everyone, including strangers, advised that “this one will go much, much faster!" "Be prepared!” "This baby will shoot out!"

What I hadn’t been prepared for was the physical and emotional exhaustion of her delivery.

She’d been so tangled and manipulated during the pregnancy that, instead of feeling some miraculous sense of welcoming another child, her delivery felt like a quest for dislodgment from my body. As a mother, that's not how you want to feel. Surely, the mental health professionals will have a field day with that one, but it's the truth.

Upon arrival, after hours of labor and pushing, our daughter showed obvious signs of battle . Her little head narrowed to an unfathomable, cone-shaped point, and her left arm curled around so that her palm faced away from her body. She was, without a doubt, absolutely beautiful.

Today she's twelve and still possesses every ounce of flexibility, strength and stubbornness. She’s a natural gymnast with pliant joints. She’s known among her friends as a prolific writer and (how appropriate!) a director of home movies.

When she’s feeling compassionate, she’s the most amazing human being I’ve ever met…

…but lately, my God, I just want to take that flexible little body of hers, slam it down in a chair and ask her who the hell she thinks she is.

Twelve years ago, in a delivery room in Chicago, she nearly broke my resolve. I didn’t think I could do it. I begged everyone for another way…a c-section…because I couldn’t endure one more wave of getting absolutely nowhere. Everyone in that room agreed she was one tough cookie. Everyone saw how strong she was and how she was very much her own person already.She emerged once she was finally ready. On her own terms. And as much as I am her mother, I must remember that she is her own person. Always has been. Always will be.

She’s a fighter. She’s willful. She was manipulated in utero by doctors and, I might add, quite manipulative when the urge strikes.

I didn’t think I’d survive her delivery, but I did. And while I’m often doubtful I’ll survive the teen years with her, I have to remind myself that I will. Truth be told, I was just like her as a child...

Thanks for reading, and please weigh in on what you think it takes to raise a strong-willed daughter these days.


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  • I joke that my oldest daughter had colic as a baby...and kept it. She's loud, opinionated, strong willed, FUN and moody. Now she's 19 and just finished her freshman year of college, preparing to run her first marathon this weekend. I've struggled with having a child who (unlike yourself) was so different than I am. Over the years, I came to appreciate our differences and enjoy her immensely today. The teen years were definitely challenging and I'd be lying if I said we didn't have our share of battles. I guess my best advise is to try to take a step back from time to time and (as cliche as it sounds) pick your battles. Teens are strange creatures in general (I have four of them), so you do not have hormones working in your favor, but try to see the positive whenever possible. Enjoy and good luck!

  • In reply to Anne Kiplinger:

    I love your comments, Anne, and I'll keep them in mind. Thanks for writing!

  • I'm not sure there's anything you can "do" to raise a strong-willed daughter except let them have their voice while showing them that it's a two-way street and they can't have everything their way all the time. (Good luck with that.)
    My girl, now 19 and also just finishing her freshman year, is a bit of a pleaser but also very willful when she wants to be. Your delivery sounds like mine, except we did have to go in and yank her out in the end. She came out with thick black hair in a Mohawk) (she's now blonde) and the photo we have of her, covered in god knows what and still with her cord, looks like a warrrior princess!

  • In reply to Expat in Chicago:

    Fantastic advice. Thanks for your excellent comments.

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