When your children are young, parenting can seem to be more "parenting generics" than "parenting individuals". Every child needs to learn please and thank you. Every child needs to practice sharing. Every child needs to understand authority and respect for others. Every child needs to learn show empathy to his peers.
Most young children (the 5 and under group) respond fairly predictably to the parenting of those behaviors. There will be tantrums, pouting, kicking, and eventually some acceptance.
But, once in a while, your child surprises you. And you see, in that moment, who they truly are. You see who they will be as an adult. You see the strength they have, that is waiting to emerge as they learn to articulate themselves and as they grow into themselves.
I'll never forget the first time that happened to me with Lexi.
Lexi has generally been a very pleasant child. She isn't mean. She is sensitive. She is affectionate. She actually worried me a bit. I wondered if she'd get eaten alive by the more savvy kids of the real world.
We were on vacation in California. She was about 18 months old. She was starting to embrace the terrible two and asserting herself. She wasn't used to sharing. She wanted her way. She was tired and ornery many days.
We were trying to get in to the car to go home for a nap, and she was completely against it. She was having a full blown fit. I grabbed her from the street and put her into her seat. As I was buckling her up, she screamed in my face. And I mean, screamed. Before I even knew it, I responded to her in a physical way.
I popped her under the chin.
I gasped at myself. Had I really just hit my child in the face? I felt like grabbing her and consoling her. I stopped myself and played the part of stern mom. I'd taken it pretty far and wanted her to know I had meant it.
And this is what she did:
She looked at me. Her eyes welled with tears. And then, she steeled herself against them. Against me. She stopped the tears, looked me right in the eye, and looked ahead.
At 18 months old.
That is when I knew that girl - for as sweet as she was, for as gentle as she'd been, for as cuddly as she liked to be - had grit.
As she's aged, I've seen it even more. She doesn't use her strength to bully others. She doesn't push other people around. But, she will not be pushed around either.
She has a deep well of quiet strength in that little body. When it gets time to pull her own personal hand cart, she will put her head down and use that reserve to over come the trials in her life.