My Stubborn Child

Marvin is very stubborn. I don’t mean he’s ‘strong-willed’, or that he’s got an ‘assertive personality’. I mean knockdown, drag out, no holds barred, in your face, like a mule on a bad day, STUBBORN! And has been since the day he was born. He knows what he wants and he makes sure you know about it!

As a baby, he would want something he shouldn’t have and cry for it like all babies do. But Marvin would keep crying and screaming about it. He was our first baby, so everyone felt the need to ‘help’ us with their parenting suggestions. It was always the same advice: Distract him with a favorite toy or something else. It was terrible advice! All that did was make him mad. He’d swat it away (like King Kong and the airplanes), or take it and throw it across the room! We thought our ‘helpful’ friends were crazy – or that they hated us – because their advice was so far off the mark. Our solution was to hide or cover up everything that he wasn’t allowed to touch. My knick-knacks have been tucked away in a box for so long, I’m not sure where they are anymore, or even what they are…. When we had Wesley, and he could be easily distracted by a toy, we finally understood our friends’ advice.

Marvin also hated naps when he was a baby. He would be exhausted, face flushed and eyes droopy, but did not want to take a nap. I would hold him, rock him, sit with him in a quiet place, I tried everything. But he would have none of it. As soon as I tried tilting him to a reclined position, he’d start screaming. He would scream for an hour, and then nap for 20 minutes. It just wasn’t fair!

Marvin started the “terrible twos” at age 13 months. I remember I was mopping the kitchen floor, and Marvin was in the adjacent living room on the carpet. He crawled over to me, and I told him ‘no’ and put him back on the carpet. Then he crawled back towards me, stopping at the edge of the carpet. Then he looked at me, to make sure I was watching, and deliberately put his hand into the kitchen. And he had that look in his eye. You know the one, the look that says, ‘oh yeah, what are you going to do about it?’ I couldn’t believe it. My baby was trying to out-stubborn me at just over a year old!

When he started talking, he quickly learned to argue. And he found every opportunity that he could to correct me. We eventually had to make a rule about something as innocuous as telling time. He’d ask me what time it was, and I’d say 1:42. Then he’d say, “actually it’s 1:44.” This was very aggravating, largely because I’ve never been able to figure out how set every clock in the house to the exact same time! We told him that he was not allowed to correct anyone on the time unless it was more than a 5-minute difference.

When he got to be about 4 or 5 years old, I had a talk with Marvin about being stubborn. First I told him that he was stubborn just like me, and that it was good to be stubborn. It was a good quality that would help him in his life. I told him that it was a lot like knowing how to throw a ball. It’s a good thing to know how to throw a ball, but it’s not ok to throw a ball in the living room. It’s the same with being stubborn. It’s not okay to be stubborn by not eating your dinner, but it is good to use your stubbornness to finish a 100-piece puzzle, or to learn how to read! It’s how he chooses to use his stubbornness that’s good or bad.

Even with my insights to help him, he would still choose to use his stubbornness against me, and, ultimately, himself. He would fight with me over everything, even what to wear. Normally, what he was wearing would not be a battle I would choose to fight, but on this particular day, he was wearing his favorite sweater and corduroy pants when the weather forecast was predicting 75 degrees and 80% humidity. The kid was going to give himself heat stroke! I had to wrestle him out of his clothes, and he was fighting me with all he had. That afternoon, I boxed up all of his winter clothing so we wouldn’t have to have a rematch.

When he was in elementary school, so about age 9 or 10, I had another talk with him about being stubborn. The first thing I told him was that he got his stubbornness from me, so I was just as stubborn as he was, but with 25 years more experience. He wasn’t going to be able to out-stubborn me! Then I told him that his stubbornness could either help him or hurt him. I told him that where he chose to put his focus would determine whether his stubbornness would help him or not. I gave him an example – Let’s pretend that I told you that you can’t play video games until your room is clean. If you focus on ‘I don’t want to clean my room,’ your stubbornness will keep you from getting to play video games. If you focus on ‘I want to play video games,’ then your stubbornness will help you overcome the obstacle of cleaning your room so you can play video games.

He also started to refine his arguing skills. It was similar to the constant ‘why’ that 3-year-olds do, just a bit more sophisticated.

Marvin – Can I watch TV?
Me – Not now.
Marvin – Why not?
Me – Because we’re going grocery shopping in 10 minutes.
Marvin – Can I watch TV for 10 minutes?
Me – No, because we’re getting ready to go.
Marvin – But I am ready to go. Can I watch TV?
Me – You don’t have your shoes on yet.
Marvin – But it doesn’t take 10 minutes to put my shoes on. It only takes 1 minute. So can I watch TV for 9 minutes?

And on and on and on. He had an answer for everything, and it always ended the same way. I’d end up yelling at him. I would even use the phrase every mother has vowed to never use, “Because I said so!” And neither one of us were happy with this outcome. Eventually, I figured out how to not get drawn in to this kind of verbal argument. I’d give him an answer, and would let him ask why once. After that, I would say, “I’ve given you an answer and a reason. It’s time for you to obey.” And if he continued to push me after that, I would discipline him, usually by taking away a privilege, or sending him to his room for a time-out. This method is far less exhausting!!!

When he’s in the mood to argue, Greg and I try to stop him from digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole, but he doesn’t let us. We are constantly telling him, “Stop talking now. You’re making it worse, stop talking now!” And he doesn’t. Like a verbal battle to the death, he keeps going and going, insulting us, making threats, calling us names, because he has to have the last word.

When he got to middle school, helped me explain this concept in a new and funny way with this now retired de-motivator:

Sometimes the only difference between a budding genius and a blooming idiot is where they choose to take a stand.
It says – ‘Wisdom – Sometimes the only difference between a budding genius and a blooming idiot is where they choose to take a stand.’ I’ve got it hanging on the wall in my living room! I told Marvin that this needs to be his life motto! And just last week I asked him if, during his tantrum the previous evening, he was behaving like a budding genius or a blooming idiot. So it’s still something we’re working on. And it will be something he works on for his whole life, like I do. Sometimes he’ll mess up (just like I do), but hopefully I’ve given him enough insight that he’ll learn from his mess-ups. Hopefully, he’ll learn to use his stubborn streak to make a positive impact on the world. He’s certainly capable.

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