Fighting with 4 year olds, Forgiveness and Reconciliation

She fights me every day. My 4 year old, that is. Her will is iron, and her natural inclination is rebellion (whose isn’t?). “I’m not going to” and “No, I don’t want to” frequently pass her lips. It doesn’t matter what it is or is not, she does the opposite of what her daddy and I ask.

“You’re going to preschool today!”

“No, I don’t want to!” she says. And we fight. I ask her to get dressed. She tells me no. She wants me to dress her. And I’m wearied and tired and  my hands fumble to snap up the baby’s sleeper and zip the toddler’s jacket and throw a pair of sweats on myself.

“You can dress yourself,” I lament. “Please, just get yourself dressed!”

And she counters that she wants mommy to do it.

She can sense my frustration mounting but she persists. I give in–begrudgingly. I jerk at her pajamas and quickly clothe her.

She does this on her own when she wants to. I think. But when I want her to–when I need her to because I need to dress myself and the other two, she refuses.

Now some may read this and rebuke me for letting my 4 year old control me like this. “She should be getting herself dressed every day–no questions asked.” “You need to have her trained better.” “You need to show her you are in control.”

Yes, I know these things. I do. We’re working on this. It is not easy. And no child–no child–is the same.

You do not parent my child. I do. Her will has been strong since birth. Her sisters are more prone to comply.

She just wants attention.

After all, her 4 short years have been rocked with 6 moves–including one out of the country–and the birth of two baby sisters.

And when I heard the news the other day–about the Connecticut elementary school massacre–where many of the children killed were probably less than a year older than she–I thought about my little iron-clad baby.

I thought about how so often I wake with her crowded in between my husband and me–having entered our bed again, even though she’s supposed to stay in her own.

I thought about how I drop her at preschool three mornings per week–entrusting her to someone else.

I thought about how each morning starts. How we fight.

My mind’s eye went back to the previous morning’s getting ready. Did we struggle? Did I hug her enough? Did I kiss her? Did we reconcile before I dropped her off?

For all the things I do wrong as a mother–and they are many–one thing I think I do right is always strive to reconcile with my children when there has been some kind of disagreement between us.

Some may say this is undermining my authority–especially when I have a child who already so enjoys being in control. Some would say this is showing my children my weaknesses–when they ought to only see my strengths.

But here’s the thing: I am weak. I am fallen. I am human–like they.

I think I honestly didn’t “get” this about my own parents until well into my adulthood. I married thinking my own parents were perfect. And how that rose-colored-glasses philosophy hindered my marriage when I quickly realized my husband, my new authority, was not.

I want my children to see my own imperfection. I want them to learn the practice of reconciliation. I want them to see me ask forgiveness when I have disciplined in anger–even if they needed the discipline.

I want to start and end each day with hugs and kisses and I love yous.

I don’t want to let anything be left unsaid.

And when I woke this morning, with the babe nursing on one side and big sisters’s long and lean 4-year-old legs entangled with mine and freshly-cut, self-inflicted bangs nuzzled against my husband’s shoulder, I took hold of her hand and thanked the Lord she was there.

And when she asked me to dress her, I did. And when she said firmly she could put on her own tights and zip her own dress, I let her try, until in frustration she asked me to help again.

Sleepless nights, frustrating mornings and all: What does it really matter in the end…when she is here.

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  1. Laura says

    Thank you. What a beautiful reminder to love our children despite their challenges and to show them our human side… not just a picture of perfection.

  2. says

    Wish we could have talked more about our stubborn 4 year olds on the short ride we shared following Allume. I have the same number of kids, similar ages and same issues with my 4 year old. The major difference is my baby is now 8mo and my 4yr old has finally gone back to some of her independent ways of dressing herself, but when the baby was only a few months old it was the worst. Praying your’s gets more independent too! Love your perspective here.
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  3. says

    Love love love this post. My 3 year old daughter is just like my mother’s daughter- we both have iron wills and EVERYTHING seems up for negotiation with her. It’s frustrating and mind blowing to me how easily she seems to wear me down…. but regardless of that, the Absolute Truth of parenting is that we want… NEED… to outlive our children, and we want our children to be safe. I know when she’s a struggling teenager this truth will remain the same. I hope I can impress that upon my daughter Bc I don’t think I really understood that growing up. The rest really doesn’t matter as long as our childrens’ hearts are still beating.

  4. says

    You said this perfectly. All day long I’ve been telling myself thank God they’re here, and praying for the families who lost their children yesterday. I have a 5 year old, a kindergartner, and all I keep thinking is how much of a baby he still is, and my heart just breaks every time I think of what those families are going through.
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  5. Heather says

    Erin, thank you for sharing this. I, too, try my hardest to make sure I clear up relationships with my kids; even, like you, when I’ve disciplined in anger and even when they indeed needed to be disciplined. I have 2 strong-willed little boys (ages 5 and almost 4; I also have 2 girls, one 7 the other 22 months) that are very much how you describe your little girl. It is so hard to be the picture of patience when they are so iron willed. Yesterday’s news shook me to my core. I cannot even imagine the horror. I praised God in that moment that my own kids were safe. It definitely changed my own perspective on how I treat my strong-willed boys. Like you, and, I’m sure, so many others, I went through the same questions… did I hug them enough today, say I love you another time, say “yes” one more time etc. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts; it’s comforting to know there’s someone else out there with similar struggles.

  6. Sharee says

    Erin, thanks for your down to earth writing. Last night I grew frustrated with Caleb & all I could do is hug him. I am not a screaming parent but I have moments where my already loud voice gets louder and yesterday really made me double check my tone & recognize that I need to have a bit more grace. I can’t imagine the terror that those children felt and are continuing to feel. My prayers are with everyone.

  7. says

    Oh my! Your description of your daily discussions with your daughter sound like me with my 4 year old! “I will not” and “You will not” seem to be her favorite phrases as of late. Her stubborn streak could stretch from coast to coast and some days everything seems like a battle in this house! Thank you for this post. My heart found encouragement.

  8. Leigh says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. What a beautiful way to express some of the hard emotions a lot of us are going through.

  9. says

    Your post made me laugh because it sounded like you were writing about my three year old daughter. One day we will thank god for being blessed with strong daughters when they don’t succumb to peer pressure or bullying.

  10. AineMistig says

    “Sleepless nights, frustrating mornings and all: What does it really matter in the end…when she is here?” ~~ AMEN.

    A word of encouragement: your daughter is JUST like my 4 year old son! He’s so contrary on everything. If I tell him it’s raining, he’ll reply: “No, Mommy, it’s just wet.” (!!) Of course, my mother thinks this is hilarious, because he gets it from me….
    I strive to do the same thing: to say I’m sorry when I know I’m in the wrong, even if he was in the wrong too. I’ve tried to do this with him since he was a baby, and now, even when he has no reason to apologize (because it really was just ME having a very “human” moment!), he’ll say, “I’m sorry too, Mommy,” and hug me back. I can tell he sees the importance of reconciling, which I know is an important quality he can take with him into his other relationships throughout life.

    Letting your children see your mistakes also shows them how to HANDLE making mistakes — a very, very important life skill, that’s necessary for success in life in any arena. You’re doing great Momma!

  11. lyss says

    Thanks for being real. And I must say, you are not alone! I currently have a 4 yr old daughter that often acts the same exact way. Sometimes I feel like a bad mom who hasn’t trained her well enough. But on the other hand, since becoming a parent, I’ve come to see that all kids are different. My son is not near as stubborn as she.

    And I have to agree with you, that sometimes naughtiness is a sign that they are needing love or attention. When my daughter was a bit younger, she would constantly wake at night crying for her daddy and wanting to sleep with him. We came to realize that she was simply missing time with him since he away working so much. Thankfully, my hubby is learning to put a priority on family time. May the Lord give each of us wisdom in dealing with our kids!

  12. Natalie Wagner says

    OMG Thank You for reminding me that even when I yell and cry and feel frustrated beyond the grips of sanity that I need to be grateful. I have two of the most amazing gifts that there ever was my children. I don’t know how to do it except hour by hour and day by day. I am always learning.

  13. Emily says

    oh man are we in the same boat! And I might have to argue that your child and mine ARE the same 😉 this sounds like every morning in our home with a preschooler who has recently “forgotten” how to do many things she once did on her own! And you are so right, they really should ‘t be controlling our schedule like this, but sometimes we just need to get through the moment, don’t we?
    I think I have reconciliation down pretty well in our home too and you post made me think…perhaps it’s the strong-willed ones that especially need to see us admitting our weakness, our need for Jesus, so they know it’s ok to let go a bit too…
    And when we can end the day with stories and snuggles, well, I’d say that’s a win :)

    • says

      I love this, Emily: “And when we can end the day with stories and snuggles, well, I’d say that’s a win.” Thank you for sharing! It’s good to know I’m not alone!

  14. mumma bear says

    As a mother of three under 5 and one very strong willed I have also learned that I don’t have to control every situation and join every argument I am invited to. One day they will grow up to make decisions for themselves and be armed with the knowledge that they have a voice. Also they learn how to forgive.

  15. says

    I know I’ve read this one before, but it’s resonating differently with me tonight. I feel like giving in so much these days, because I’m tired of fighting. Living in a time of transition has been difficult, and only recently have I seen those effects on the kids, especially my older one. “I wanna do what I wanna do” is a common phrase around here. Thank you for re-sharing this on FB, for your ever candid and raw honesty.
    Angie recently posted..Not Really Moving Day…My Profile


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