When my oldest kid was a newborn, he was extremely colicky. He cried for most of his first year and even when he wasn’t crying, he was still very high needs. His intensity startled me. Daniel and I are both pretty easy going, but our child was the opposite.
I remember spending so much of that exhausting year trying to change my baby. If only I could turn him into the kind of baby that sleeps! Surely there’s something I can do to make him just relax and go with the flow!
When he turned three and his strong, assertive and often challenging personality really emerged, I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out how to parent this child so different from myself. If I just stick to my guns and stay consistent, I can make him more compliant, I thought. He’ll listen better and stop pushing back on every little thing. But maybe I’m just a terrible parent and that’s why I’m struggling!
But as my other children hit toddlerhood and didn’t have the same challenges, I realized it wasn’t something I was doing. It was just how God made my kid. This made me feel better about my parenting but still at a loss at how to mother my son.
When he turned five and more able to reason, parenting him became much easier although still the most difficult task of my life. But the truth is I had wasted so much time with the endlessly frustrating exercise of pushing against my son’s temperament instead of learning to understand it and work with it.
It’s just been in the past year that I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to change my child’s temperament instead of trying to guide and form his God-given strengths and weaknesses. It was a futile exercise and put stress on our relationship and caused us to butt heads.
It really took a complete meltdown on my part and the realization of the humiliating fact that I really don’t know how to parent this kid that gave me the freedom to throw everything I knew or read about parenting out the window and look at THIS child and OUR relationship with fresh eyes. Not through a lens of how most kids act or what kind of discipline usually works. Toss it all and start over.
My perspective really shifted when I started reading a book recommended to me by a dear friend. “You have to read this book! I wish my parents had known to read it for parenting me and it’s 100% your kid!” she said. It’s a book about parenting a child with a choleric temperament. I knew a lot about Myers-Briggs personality types, but hardly anything about the four temperaments.
When the book arrived in the mail and I read the first 10 pages, I almost cried because it’s SO him. He must be 100% choleric. I’m not sure I have a choleric bone in my body, so until reading about his temperament none of his motivations had made sense to me. I didn’t understand what made him tick.
Understanding the little fiery temperament God gave him is helping me so much. I’m more patient because I understand why particular things are so challenging to him and can head those situations off because I predict they might lead to an argument. I feel less frustrated now that I’m not just completely confused at WHY he’s doing certain things. And I’m better able to see the strengths of his tenacious personality.
Yes, we still butt heads sometimes and parenting continues to stretch me in ways I could never have imagined, but it’s like the difference between swimming upstream versus going with the current. You’re swimming and it’s exhausting, but one is possible and the other is an exercise in futility. Working WITH his temperament is so rewarding and I think it’s making us grow much closer.
And now that he’s older, communicating with him about his strengths and weaknesses is easier, too. Praising him when his temperament is really shining or telling him, “Hey, bud, you’re having a hard time with this and I think this is why...” when he’s struggling.
The truth is, he’s an unbelievable kid. I’ve always known that he’s remarkable, but I’m becoming more and more aware of how his unusually strong temperament makes him incredible. He perseveres through any obstacle. He has an unrelenting sense of justice. He is 100% unimpressed by peer pressure. He has an unquenchable thirst to learn about the world around him. He is tirelessly generous and encouraging. He thinks he can do absolutely anything, and 99% of the time he’s right.
Image c/o Citrus Holly Photography
I’m ashamed to admit how long it’s taken me to fully embrace my child’s temperament, but I’m so grateful that even late in the game things are taking a turn for the awesome. I remember a friend telling me when he was a 4 or 5 years old and having a rough day, “I’m so glad he’s YOUR kid and not mine.” I remember it stinging so bad. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond, but today I would say, “Yeah! ME, TOO! I’m so glad he’s mine.” And I am.
Have you ever struggled to understand your child’s temperament? Let’s chat in the comments.
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