Lessons About Grace from My Strong-Willed Child


Lessons About Grace from My Strong-Willed Child | Duluth Moms Blog

I Am Always Pushing

When my oldest daughter was being born, I remember thinking, “Why didn’t we just get another puppy? I’m so tired and I’m never going to sleep again.” (This was after three hours of actual pushing.) She didn’t want to come out and then she told us about it as she cried for at least an hour straight. The nurse said, “You’re gonna have your hands full with this one.” I swear to God. When she was around 15 months old, I started seeing some strong willed behavior that I couldn’t seem to manage. Putting her in the car seat was a workout for both of us. I’d literally have to strong arm her into her seat while she clawed at me and screamed like she was on fire. Once she was in she’d be fine, but she put up a hell of a fight. If we were in a public parking lot I would park as far away as I could to avoid stares. Going to restaurants? Awful. And I don’t mean a normal awful when you have a toddler. She wouldn’t sit down, no amount of provided entertainment would work and my anxiety definitely wasn’t helping anybody. We would take shifts walking around with her and sometimes when the food would come we would just have them box it up. Or I would leave with her.

Even going to dinner at my in-laws stressed me out. My daughter would act completely bananas and I wasn’t sure why. I was always very routined, especially with naps, because this little firecracker of mine needed her sleep. She would be very defiant with me around other people and I would let it hurt my feelings and frustrate me to the point where I didn’t want to go anywhere. My husband still will say, “Don’t power struggle with her so much,” but I just feel like someone has to tell her no! There are boundaries and ways to act! I’m not a super strict mom, but it’s my opinion that there is a frame of rules that children need to live in.

Hugs Help

I still remember the summer before her second birthday. We were going to the pool where she took swimming lessons. She had no fear, and after the lesson, had no problem swimming in the deep end (which isn’t allowed unless you can swim the length of the pool sans floaties). However, she was so confident about it and wouldn’t listen to me to get out, they kind of made an exception for her, and I thought, oh boy, here we go (this was outside the frame of rules for sure). At this same pool, she would also sit with other families (that we didn’t know) and laugh while running in and out of both the women’s and men’s restrooms. I was embarrassed and frustrated, and you bet people were staring and were probably thinking “why can’t this mom control her kid?” I was thinking it too because I couldn’t. She would be fine for a while and then explode into a wild thing like a bomb and I’d have to scoop her up like a sack of potatoes and haul her to the car where I’d fight her into her carseat. Of course at this time I was pregnant. I would try to keep myself calm and even offer her a hug, and sometimes that worked a little.

Live and Let Live

We enrolled Grace in preschool where she would attend for four hours and get some of her energy out that I couldn’t keep up with at home. She would see other peers listening, learn more words and about the big world around her that I couldn’t seem to do enough of. It was wonderful for both of us and she soon made little friends and enjoyed classroom tasks like setting up for lunch, polishing objects and learning to take turns and share. In the beginning her vocabulary was still developing and I would often hear of incidents where she had gotten aggressive with a classmate. Not out of malice, more out of frustration and having poor impulse control as some toddlers do.

There were big transitions happening. I was due with her sister soon and we were building a house while living in a rental. Sometimes I would have to pick her up early from school because she had hurt another child and it was the school’s policy to send her home. This was very  heavy on my heart as I didn’t understand where her aggression was coming from. I talked to a few moms who had older children and dealt with impulse control when their kids were younger. It was something they saw them grow out of and that I should not feel bad. It didn’t help, I felt horrible. How could MY sweet Grace be like this? This continued into the following year at the same preschool. She was now a big sister and we were still in the rental anxiously waiting to move. This time around she could definitely communicate so I chalked it up to big transitions happening. My husband, trying to console me and make sense of it, had pointed out if she was at a regular daycare that wasn’t as strict, we wouldn’t be picking her up and they would have to figure it out. After all she was just a toddler and they aren’t all sweet quiet church mice. I was getting frustrated and feeling like a failure. She was gentle with her sister and was not aggressive with me anymore so a lot of it seemed to be happening at school. I wasn’t there so I couldn’t see what was triggering her, and her teacher would say it would sometimes come out of nowhere. 

When in Doubt, Pray

I was desperate for help and considering pulling her put of her preschool because I didn’t want her to be labeled the “bad kid.” I didn’t want her hurting her friends. It was almost like she would blackout while it was happening and when the teacher would talk to her about it afterwards she would just cry because she was sad she hurt her friends. I thought every mom and teacher were judging me and I avoided kids’ parties and playdates. I even brought her to behavioral therapy which seemed to help and that was right after we moved into our new house. I thought she would for sure be better that she had her own yard and a nice bedroom, but she desperately missed our rental. She was protesting bedtime and we tried everything from oils to melatonin to letting her stay up….none of it worked. And then sometime this past summer her intensity lifted and her defiance softened and I noticed I wasn’t yelling so often or avoiding the pool or parties or playdates. She was going to bed with her normal routine, she was being helpful and sweet, and was listening after the second time I reminded her instead of the sixth time. When I reflect back I feel a rush of gratitude that I wake up positive and patient, where I used to wake up uncertain and stressed out, not knowing how my child would act that day. The more she acted out the more I’d take it on personally and try to control her. I would often feel like a failure and pray for God to tell me how to mother this strong-willed little lady so that I wouldn’t go crazy or break her spirit in the process. There are so many seasons of being a parent, and when you’re in a bad season it feels like it will never end. 

The Good Part

For now, we have reprieve and I am in awe of this little human I get to call my daughter. She possesses qualities I wish I had. She is fearless, always eager to try new things, curious, questions everything and stands up for what she wants (or even what she thinks her sister wants). She is so passionate and empathetic, often asking me how my day was. In August when she experienced the loss of her great grandma (my husband’s grandma), she was crying and offered to share her grandmothers with her daddy because he didn’t have one anymore. She can seem tough, but she is so sensitive.

I might always be learning to have Grace with her. I aways joke that we should’ve named her Calamity Jane instead of Grace because she’s always running everywhere, never walking, she falls down a lot and runs into things. We are forever telling her to slow down and to be careful with her body. But, she is maturing and this passion and vigor that she has will be used for something really special someday. I think I’ll always be learning how to be her mom and we may always butt heads a bit. But as I’m sharing this story, I realize I have leaned a lot about the meaning of Grace, from Grace.

Grace: The exercise of love, kindness, or good will; disposition to benefit or serve another.

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I'm Kati Annis and I moved to Duluth ten years ago, after graduating from the Aveda Institute of Cosmetology in Minneapolis. Originally from Bemidji, I always loved visiting Duluth and I knew I wanted to end up here. I met my husband Brian at the first salon I worked at while I was cutting his son Caleb's hair. Brian and I have been married for nine years, and we now have a family of five, going on six! Caleb is a freshman at the University of Sioux Falls where he is playing football and learning a lot.I have two daughters, Grace and Elin who both attend Many Rivers Montessori and both love dancing with the Minnesota Ballet. I am a stay at home mom with another baby on the way! Most of my favorite hobbies are not outdoorsy ones, but we all can't be Annie Oakley. I'm so excited to share my mommy-wife-life perspective with this great community of women.


  1. This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I have a very strong willed 3.5 year old boy. I am dealing with the exact same issues you had. Especially at preschool. Everyday is an anxious one wondering if he “was good” today. My husband also tends to act as if it isn’t as bad as it is. I cannot wait for the day that the negative attention seeking behavior ends and he can be the sweet boy I know is inside of him. Do you have any idea why your daughter’s behavior changed toward the positive? How old was she when that happened?

    Thank you for sharing your story. You sure made my day better.

    • Thank you for commenting! My heart is right there with you. You trust your gut when you know your child and hisnor her ” normal” behavior. You are definitely not alone, many people are desperate to ” fix” their kids but don’t talk about it because…. it’s painful! And they are so little and you hope it’s a phase or you think you can fix it yourself. I brought Grace to a behavioral therapist, and I think it was a combination of that, her settling into our new home, and just maturing most of all. Also I had to just love her harder. I would get easily frustrated and react to her and I had to train myself to stop reacting. ( ps I’m still in training ) haha. I still can’t believe I’m a mom of this string willed girl. She requires more love and more patience than I knew I could give. Thinking of you, mama. You and your boy will get through this! Be gentle with yourself.

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