"I just don't know what to do" she said, "with her strong will".   

This is conversation is all to common with adoptive parents.  They find their best intentions and most well-planned efforts at guiding their children sometimes shrink in the face of a strong-willed child.  They go toe to toe (which can be frustrating for parents who do everything they can to avoid struggles for power), and wind up feeling like they are no match for their child’s determination.  And they often worry that the child’s determination is a significant marker for some psychological or mental health challenges.  After all, we figure most humans are their psychological best when they are flexible and adaptable.  Many strong-willed children are just the opposite.

While I’m not sure I have all the answers for navigating these tumultuous adoptive family waters, I wanted to offer a little encouragement to the Moms and Dads who feel exhausted in the wake of their child’s will.

Your child’s determination is a banner over his head, marking him a survivor.  ”Our” children have often suffered trauma we can only begin to imagine.  The very determination that can bring you to your knees (or to tears… or to your own boiling point) is probably a big part of the reason your child survived his private hell.  Instead of being feared or loathed, we should encourage one another to re-frame our view of that determination… It is something to be celebrated and revered.  That kind of determination keeps people alive.

Since we grown-ups know that our greatest strengths can also become our greatest weaknesses, our charge is to help these children channel their “crowns of thorns” for good.  How can we remain in relationship to a child with a strong will in such a way as to influence (not control) how they exercise their determination in ways that are healthy?  Can we position ourselves in the child’s life in such a way as to be their biggest fan around the ways and means by which they survived?  And at the same time, be gentle and persistent enough to help them smooth out any rough edges born of that journey?

I think it begins with us.  We’ll find ourselves in situations with these youngsters and feel them draw a proverbial line in the sand which we know must be crossed for their best long-term interests.  We’ll feel our own fear, and acknowledge it in the quiet of our own hearts or aloud in the companionship of those who serve as our safety nets.  We’ll remember that the very strength of that child that is maddening in the moment is the very same force that kept her little heart ticking in her scariest days.  We’ll feel gratitude for how that determination carried her to today.  And then we’ll take a deep breath, and begin our work again.

The mission is not easy, and is often dangerous and emotionally expensive.  But the cause is worthy, so press on.

Yours in Love, Light, and Relationship,


Jen Winkelmann