When I was pregnant with Penny, Dom and I would try and envision what we thought the newest member of our family would be like. We came to the conclusion (not through any scientific means of research, but by just looking at each other and guessing) that she’d most likely be a brunette, that she’d have an olive complexion and that her eye colouring would be something between green and hazel, just like ours. Personality wise, because Boy Dom was such a painfully shy child (and probably still is), who’d hide behind his mam, and was happy to let his twin sisters deal with all of the social interactions and because Amelia was so loud, confident and sociable, we believed that Penny would follow her dad’s footprints. She’d sit back and let her older sister do the work. Quiet, reserved, shy, and easy-going – that’s what she will be.
As you’ll have all realised by now, our guesstimations were far from accurate. The brown-haired, hazel-eyed girl with the subdued air is, in fact, our blonde-haired, blue-eyed, bundle of chaos. And her olive complexion was the only bit we got right. Penny is passionate, inquisitive and knows what she wants and how she wants it. She’s also sensitive, loving (when it’s on her terms, of course), creative and intelligent. She’s a strong-willed three-year-old.
In the midst of one of our daily debates – when her reasoning skills leave me baffled or struggling to find a good enough response to win – fighting the urge to reply with ‘I said no, and that’s that’ is tough. When I’m tired, distracted, and really not up for a lengthy argument as to why she can’t eat a lollipop with her morning cereal, this would obviously be the easiest way out. And seeing as though she’s taken to quoting lines from Matilda, including ‘I’m big, you’re small; I’m right and you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it’, I could just throw that one back at her every once in a while. But when I do resort to the ‘no means no’ mentality, a pang of guilt will instantly follow. Because when I detach myself from the situation – when I stop being her mam who endures this every day – her ability to reason, to argue her point, and to believe wholeheartedly in her arguments is actually something to celebrate, right? These are skills that as an adult I wish I possessed.
Although it sounds slightly over-the-top now, when Penny was younger, her strong-willed attitude was something I would really struggle with, especially when we were in the presence of other not-so-strong-willed children who Penny would always overpower. Whenever we visited playgroups, there’d always be the ‘well-behaved’ children; the children who would happily play with the rest, who wouldn’t object
or push the other kids off if their turn on the trampoline wasn’t as long as theirs, who would never tantrum, and then there’d be us. Penny was rough; she’d happily knock over any toddler (or baby – cringe) if they stood between her and the slide. Sharing was a volatile situation – sometimes she would, sometimes she definitely would not – and if the toy that she wanted were in someone else’s hands, Penny wouldn’t think twice about prising it off them. Basically, to all other playgroup goers, she looked like a brat, and I looked like the too-soft mother – what a pair. I did often wonder how I – someone who is a self-confessed push over, a people pleaser, who shirks away from any confrontation – managed to nurture a child who was such a force of nature and displayed none of my less fortunate characteristics? Admittedly, for a while, I put it down to the fact that she was just naughty and that it was my parenting that was the issue (because that’s what we mothers do, it’s always our fault). So, during the night when Penny was refusing to sleep (yep, she didn’t sleep through for years either), I started to Google.
So, during my late night/early morning googling sessions I found an argument from every side of living with ‘strong-willed’ children. There were the books and self-help websites that told me how to ‘deal’ with it, how to discipline my determined daughter, and how not to lose my sanity. Unsurprisingly, these methods (one of which included smacking) didn’t feel right. And then I found the other approach, the one that celebrates this trait (countries such as Finland and Norway encourage this behaviour as they know that when your child reaches adulthood, it’s an enviable trait to have, so don’t want their kids to lose it). And when I found a list of characteristics that you would typically see in a strong-willed child – sensitivity, passion for the things they love, perfection-orientated, the intense need to be heard (this is the one she likes to demonstrate most) – Penny displayed every one. The penny (excuse the pun) dropped; she wasn’t naughty – well ok, sometimes she was – she was just a determined little girl. And once I started to look at it from that angle, instead of despairing at my defiant kid wondering where I went wrong, I felt proud. Really proud. Yes, Penny! You go get them! (and while you’re at it, share some of that determination with me, please)
And so now what do I do? How do we live a semi-harmonious life without squishing the attributes that will set her in good stead when she reaches adulthood. I don’t want to squish it, nor do I want to make her believe that it’s wrong or that she should shun away from standing for what she believes in. We have daily battles, and at times tempers rise (usually around bedtime when we’re all exhausted or on a morning when we’re rushing to leave for school); however, I do try to nourish it as much as I can (even if it is through gritted teeth
and tears at times 😉 ). Rather than a stern no, I’ll try to understand where she’s coming from. Instead of answering her barrage of ‘why’s’ with just a ‘because’, I’ll answer them all until I reach a dead end and only give her an ‘I don’t know’ when I really don’t know (her active brain goes way further than I can ever get my head around). I choose my battles – does it really matter if she wants to eat her spaghetti hoops cold and from the tin or if she prefers her toast cold (basically bread)? Probably not. So, although we have rules in our house, we try to give her room to manoeuvre if it doesn’t really matter. I give her choices in her every day – do you want to go to the park or the soft play today? Would you prefer ham or cheese sandwiches? To us, these are small and insignificant life choices, but to Penny, these are kind of a big deal and give her the confidence that she can make her own choices. And most importantly I let her be independent. I give her space to challenge the status quo. I let Penny, be Penny.
That’s why I was so excited to hear the Clarks wanted to collaborate on their new preschool range, because what better way to pave the way for the next world leader but to provide her with the right shoes to do it in. We opted for the Ivy Blossom Sandal in Navy and deciding on what shoes to wear since has never been so easy. These are shoes that my independent girl can fasten herself (no more morning squabbles over me fastening her shoes for her). Shoes that she actively chooses to wear every morning because of their comfiness. Shoes that accommodate her active lifestyle, that allow her to stay indecisive on whether she wants to be in the garden or not, and shoes that don’t pinch or nip her delicate little feet (because no busy three-year-old has time for blisters). And shoes that I love to see her in, which as most parents know, is a rarity. Children always seem to gravitate to the one pair of shoes you despise and my headstrong girl is no different – the handy-downs from a friend whose style is very different from your own, the ‘dress-up’ shoes that they insist on wearing everywhere or the Christmas gift that you didn’t have the heart to return. Children pick up on these feelings and use it to their advantage; they know that every time they reach their squishy little hands down to grab them, your stomach flips with despair. But thankfully, as I’ve ticked all the boxes for what Penny wants in a shoe – ease, comfiness, pretty pattern, and quick fastening – then the dress up shoes have stayed firmly where they belong, in the dress up box. Now the only battle I have to endure is when it comes to taking them off for bed. But then again, does wearing shoes for bedtime really matter?
My Daily Battles With Little P
When I tell her that her shoes are on the wrong feet, she’ll reply and say that it’s ok and that she wants to wear them like that today and refuses to change them.
When I tell her she must brush her teeth in the bathroom and not while walking around the house, she’ll stand on the bathroom door threshold, teetering her squishy little bottom over the line of the forbidden land.
When we ask her to eat her food at the table, she moves her mini table into the sitting room and eats her food there. Still, on the table, just not exactly where I want her to be.
When we ask her not to run on the benches while out for lunch, she kneels down and crawls up and down them instead. I did say ‘don’t run’ I guess, I didn’t rule out crawling.
When we tell her that she can’t eat her chocolate before her dinner, she’ll hold it on her lips and only moves it to make way for her fork full of dinner. Don’t know if this kills her or me more.