“You’ll get so much farther in life if you learn to just be quiet.”
Nearly my entire life people have told me that being more compliant, more agreeable, and quieter would allow me to experience greater success than being, well, myself. This has always bothered me. But, it bothers me even more now that I have a loud, opinionated, and determined child of my own.
Motherhood has taught me that there is a term for these children: spirited. They are children who are “more.” More intense, more sensitive, more pissed off that you didn’t get their banana fast enough. I recently started reading Raising Your Spirited Child and it has given me great insight, both with Harlan and with myself.
A big part of this journey is accepting that my child is not who I thought he would be. Sounds silly, right? Some babies are snuggly and affectionate. They have very mild temperaments and go with the flow. That has never been H! When he was just a few hours old the nurses and hospital staff were commenting on how “awake” he was. It was at that point that I realized that we were “in for it” for lack of a better term. We tried bedsharing to get some sleep but it turns out that being near mom and dad just means it’s time to wake up and check things out. As a newborn, he was in a hurry to become mobile. He didn’t stop moving when he was awake. He was picking his giant head up from the beginning. Rolling started around four months, crawling at five and a half, walking at just over nine. This. Kid. Doesn’t. Stop.
Having a spirited child (or a “sparkler” as a friend and fellow mother of a spirited child calls it) is frustrating. It’s exhausting. It’s hard to not try to “change” my child. During those times, I have to remind myself: I, too, am a spirited child. I am chaotic, emotional, sensitive. I am loud and opinionated. I have spent most of my life dealing with people who have desperately wanted me to be something I am not. And because of that, my “strong personality” is easily my biggest insecurity. I cannot overstate how badly I do not want this to be the case for my son.
Sparklers can’t be changed. They are who they are and I need to embrace that, starting with myself and starting with my son. The world needs all kinds of people, including determined and driven spirited ones. Parenting a spirited child is hard, but worth it, because they make a difference. They push boundaries, they challenge the status quo, they think outside the box. They make stuff happen. Being spirited – or any of the adjectives that go along with it – is not inherently bad. Many of those traits are desirable: driven, determined, intuitive, sensitive, persistent, passionate. But, they can be hard to see in a positive light when learning to parent a child that exhibits them.
Some days raising a spirited sparkler feels like an exercise in futility. But on those days I have to remind myself that he won’t always be standing on the seat of his trike, or trying to pick all of the rock fragments out of the pavement when we cross the street, or yelling at strangers in Target. Some day he will be a mover and a shaker. Some day my spirited little guy will be an awesome adult and he will change the world.