I’m sitting outside the door of a random classroom in a fine arts building on a college university campus. Inside, my boy Elliott is writing a persuasive essay. He’s one young man in a roomful of high school students who are competing in the state-level competition for our private school literary association.
Last week Elliott won the regional competition, writing an award-winning argumentative essay and this irony is not lost on me. When Elliott was little he enjoyed talking about things. I can’t remember if I used to call him “argumentative,” or maybe just inquisitive and full of questions. Lots and lots of questions.
When Elliott was little he was...intense. I think that’s the word I’m looking for. He really wanted to think and discuss matters with me and with his dad. It wasn’t a negative thing, but it required a lot of my energy. For a long time, when the boys were little, I felt like Elliott used 60 percent of my energy and the other three shared what was left. Elliott just needed a little more.
I spent a good bit of time worrying about a lot of things when I was a younger mom. I would see certain personality traits in my children and think about the absolute worst case scenario with each one of them. A child who needs to talk through and reason can be seen as “argumentative.” A child who doesn’t take no for an answer is obstinate.
These are legitimate concerns in parenting, don’t misunderstand me. And there are times when some children have bigger issues that need attention. There is such a thing as being too argumentative. Oppositional defiance is not something a person necessarily outgrows.
But most of the time, the reality is these are a healthy part of a child’s personality that just need to be finessed in a good way. While you feel like you might go crazy when your kids are little, most children manage to grow into these characteristics.
My friend Bev told me a while back that when her son Daniel was little she called out to God for wisdom. Daniel was incredibly headstrong and challenging. One day in prayer Bev clearly heard God tell her that her job wasn’t to change Daniel but to help him use the “strong” part of his personality for good, for God. She didn’t need to “fix” him — she needed to gently direct his focus.
And now Daniel — Fr. Daniel — serves as a priest and assists the bishop in running our diocese. He uses that strong personality to serve Jesus and the Church.
That story changed my perspective on life as a mother. There will be times when real, hard therapeutic work is required. But many times our job is to love our children — the children God gave us and who he made in HIS image — and pray we can give them whatever wisdom they need to be the best version of who they are.
Headstrong. Argumentative. Decisive. Firm. These are qualities that can be challenging to a parent but can certainly contribute to a young man who is confident in who he is and what he believes.
The good news is we don’t have to figure all these things out. We don’t have to know what our kids are going to do when they get older, or how exactly these gifts, these personality traits, will be used. We don’t have a map for the future, which can be scary.
But here’s the truth: God knew what he was doing when he gave you these children. Not only that, he knew what he was doing when he put you where you are right now, in this place in this time. Be not afraid. Don’t fear your child’s personality; don’t doubt your ability to parent him or her.
Love this child. And remind God of his promise to give you everything you need to help raise this child in the way he or she should go. God hasn’t forgotten this promise to you — don’t you forget it either.
Rachel Balducci is a writer and speaker, and a wife and mother of five boys and one daughter. She is a parishioner at Most Holy Trinity is Augusta, GA. She can be reached at