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The Hard 'No' {Consistency with Your Strong-Willed Child}

Father And Teenage Son Having A Hug In recent months it has been my honor to sit across the table with some of the precious young moms in my midst and wrestle with them over the ups and downs of parenting strong-willed children. They come to me because they know: we have one of those. One of those kiddos who is sometimes both joy and angst in one breath. He is joy and we can look down the road to the ways God will use his passion for His glory.

But in the here and now, they can also be a little exhausting. I remember one such season with our intense warrior-son. He had been pushing at the boundaries. Trying day after day to find the edge. How far could he push us? His teacher? God?

His principal (God bless her for seeing past his outer shell to the wonder of Caleb) used to say she likened him to a red Ferrari. Yes, it’s a sharp, high performance vehicle. But, the very boldness that makes it so coveted and beautiful is the same thing that gets it pulled over for speeding. It’s a car that never flies under the radar. For better or for worse. Because who can ignore a zippy, red Ferrari?

She was right. That was our Caleb. And this was a season that had him at odds with even himself. I think in some ways he was also testing his own heart. The questions that lingered there were powerful ones. Did he want to obey? What kind of character did he really want to pursue? And, what does it mean (really) to be under another’s authority when you just want to be fast and bold and free on the open road?

I’m not gonna lie. It was an exhausting time for all us. As vivid as if it were yesterday, I remember us grasping at straws with this final plea: “If you get another warning at school this week, you won’t be allowed to go to Dalton’s party.” Solemn words from father to son. And, Caleb knew he was serious.

Two days creeped by and there were no warnings from Mrs. Y. We rejoiced with him, relieved to have a break from the struggle that we could almost visibly see going on in his soul.

“One more day, Buddy.” High fives on a Friday morning. Words of strength and honor uttered between them as Dad sent him off to tackle his day and his choices.

Then came 3:15 p.m. My hopeful expectation turned to sorrow as I watched him round the corner in a cloud. There would be no high fives this time. Only defeat. Eyes downcast. Shoulders slumped. “Mom, I got a warning today. Could you talk to Dad? Please don’t take away the party…”

The walk home was an agonizing one. My heart teetered back and forth. Why, oh why, had we tied it to the party? I knew that we had to follow-thru. He needed to feel the weight of his own choices. It was truly better for him this way. By the time we arrived home, I knew what would have to be done. But, oh, how I wanted to give in and just let him go. Had it been up to me alone, I probably would have gone against my better judgment and given in. The pit in my stomach revealed my angst. I really just wanted to avoid the whole, big ordeal.

Later that evening, after we had delivered the hard news that we were sticking to our guns,  I came back to sit with my distraught son. At one point, I looked at him and said simply “Son, we’re following through on this because we love you. I just want you to remember that.” He looked up, clearly unconvinced. In his mind, the most loving thing would have been to sweep it under the rug and let him go to Dalton’s. He had no idea how hard it was for us to love him beyond that to the deeper places of his developing character.

Every mother wants her children to be happy. A lot of times the best stuff does bring them happiness. But, sometimes the best stuff is the hard stuff. It’s making them drink milk when they’d rather have soda. It’s encouraging them to read when they’d like to watch TV. It’s following through in discipline when they’d rather receive leniency. It’s looking down the road into their future when they’d rather be gratified today.

Jesus’ love is like that sometimes. Sometimes we ask for things that aren’t really best for us. Sometimes He says “no” when we’re pleading for Him to say “yes.” He reminds us that He loves us and that His way is for our best. We look up, often unconvinced. 

Of course, loving like Jesus means that the truth is always coupled with grace. Sweet, unmerited favor. Even in the saddest, most disappointing of places, there is grace in the midst of our failures.

Eventually our Caleb was able receive that grace. Later that night we laughed together some and had a family night. He was still sad whenever he thought about his friends all there together and himself at home. But, he wrestled through it in the context of our love and grace .

In time, the discipline began to bear fruit. Something was born in his growing character that weekend. I saw it.

Of course, it wasn’t the last bout with a rebellious attitude in the McKee home. As we go through these seasons now in the teenage years, I pray that this mother’s heart will keep learning to love like Jesus: full of both grace and truth. Always. Even when the answer has to be “no” and the times come for the Ferrari to be reigned in a bit.

Blessings to you today,

Shannon McKee

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