Parenting Lessons Learned in a Battle of the Wills

When you have kids, you will find that you have preconceived ideas about what they will be like and dreams about what they will do. This is natural.  And those human youth? Well, they likely won’t fit EXACTLY in the preconceived mold that you have shaped for them. These controversies have potential to lead to intense, heated battles of the will.

i.e. Your five year old who, so far in his little life, is looking like a great soccer player, but he has a fear of losing, so when the other team scores first, he runs off the field and won’t return. And you, mom, will be sitting there trying to get him to go in the game. Everyone around you will start trying to do your job for you, and they’ll be making comments to you about why he is acting the way he is.  There will be pressure!

I have failed miserably and publicly in about 99/100 of these battles.  And by failed, I don’t just mean I have not had my way.  I mean that I have lost my temper, lost my self-control, used bribes and threats, muttered ugly words under my breath, STILL not gotten the desired outcome from my child, and topped it all off with a lot of, “I am VERY disappointed in yous.” This is the worst. It’s a downward spiral of grasping for control and using anger and force to secure that control until everyone in the family is embarrassed or depressed.  My very worst days as a mom have been because of this type of battle.

On Sunday, my oldest, Henry, fell and broke his arm for the second time in four months. Thankfully it was a small break, and he only needed a cast.  He chose black, his supposed new favorite color (should I be afraid?), and that was that.  As an adult, I am glad I’ve never needed a cast, but growing up I thought they were way cool.  Not Henry.  Cast = attention.  And he is afraid of this kind of attention. He does not like it. Within minutes of leaving the orthopedist, Henry let me know that he didn’t want to go to school the next day. He didn’t want anyone asking about his cast. Knowing that he had just been through this experience four months ago, we thought nothing of it, and told him it would be fine.

The next morning, we were already running late for school, and it was Henry flipped out, ran away, and hid in the back of a dark closet.  This is the same place he went six weeks ago when he was supposed to carpool with new friends to school. (And that resulted in a battle that did not end well.) Somehow this time, I knew in my gut that however ridiculous his fear, it was real.  I knew exactly what I had to do this time, though I had tried before and failed.

Bottom line as far as wise advice in these scenarios: I cannot control my kids.  I can only control myself.  Their behavior needs to be their problem, not mine. In situations where there is a battle of the will, the parent needs to “keep the pressure the same” instead of adding more pressure (threats) or releasing pressure (giving in).**

Here’s the very short version of what went down.  I unemotionally told Henry that I could wait all day, but that we were going to sit there until he got in the car to go to school or until he had to go to sleep.  There would be no food or playing available during this waiting, even if that meant he had to go all day without a full meal. (Don’t worry, I would not have sent him to bed without something in his tummy.)  We had a 5.5 hour stand off which took place in four different locations along the way (home, school parking lot, school foyer, classroom) and finally at 1:15 PM, already technically absent for the day, Henry walked into his classroom and sat down with his friends.  I picked him up 1.5 hours later, and we both had big smiles on our faces. We have not had a victory of this magnitude in six years of parenting.

During our stand off, I had about an hour and a half just sitting in my car (with both younger children strapped in and watching a movie) that I was able to reflect on some things I was learning about God as a Father (and me as his child) through this situation. Here they are for your enjoyment.image1(1)

1. Sometimes we want the same things for ourselves that God wants for us, but we want them on our terms.  When we demand them on our terms, we may actually delay his ability to act on our behalf. This doesn’t change the fact that God wants to give us those things, but he is willing to withhold them until the best time for us.

While of course, we can’t thwart God’s plans, he can still be provident over all AND interact with his children.

Henry wanted comfort and safety, and ultimately he didn’t want to go to school. Guess what! I didn’t want to send him to school either.  I have actually loved having him home and was not looking forward to the first day back.  But if I had let him stay home, then he would have never overcome his fear. As a parent, I can’t lovingly give things to my kids when their hearts are in the wrong place.

2. God has unending patience, resources, time, and power.  He is not phased by our deadlines or even our opinion of him.  We cannot change what he will ultimately do, but he is not in a hurry to prove anything to anyone. That’s why Isaiah says that God, “Longs to be gracious to you.”

A lot of times in these types of battles, we hand our kids power because we are threatened by the potential outcome of the situation. We will be late to work, we will waste money on this soccer league, our plans for the day will be ruined, or our friends will think we are bad parents.  The pressure causes us to panic and use force to get our kids to do what we want.

God is never phased by our artificial deadlines OR by our opinion of him. I love this about him.  I encountered three school deadlines (tardy, absent, school day over) and five friends in the parking lot yesterday. I HAD to be secure in myself and what I was doing to not be phased by these things. [Don’t get me started on the part where Sam dropped his pants when I wasn’t looking to pee in the bushes in the front of the school.]

3. God sympathizes with our fears, no matter how small. But his ultimate goal is that we would trust him more than we fear anything else.

4. When we live in unbelief, our actions usually affect other people, whether we see it or not.

Sam and Jack sat in the car for 1.5 hours yesterday and played in a school parking lot for another 1.5-2 hours.  They were just along for the ride, and we couldn’t get on with our day until Henry decided he was going to face his fear.

5. When we finally come around, face our fears, and let the Lord work on His terms, he LOVES to shower on the blessings.

Sam and Jack got donuts and Icees from Target because they were rock stars for 5.5 hours while I essentially had to ignore them to deal with their brother.  Henry got a donut too, and I was happy to spend the afternoon teaching him how to shoot a basketball with one hand.

Yesterday’s victory was a win for everyone, not just for mom. And it was not because I was so awesome, but because the One who loves me and knows me has opted to give me his life, so that I can do the things that he does by faith.


**To give credit where it is due, this wisdom is courtesy of a wise counselor, who previously talked me through some former failed battles.



  1. Oh man. Thanks for that. My kid is only 17 months old and I struggle with this so much.

    • Kristy, thank you for your comment! 17 month olds are tough in their own special way! So glad you can relate. 🙂

  2. I love your blog, Leah! It’s so insightful and gives me meat to think about. Keep going! You’re making a difference!

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