My son is “challenging”. He is outspoken, opinionated, and headstrong.  He is almost four.  And in the interest of full disclosure here, he growls at babies, pinches other toddlers, and has even been known to spat at adults.  On our way to social engagements with other children, he usually declares in the car that he will play by himself.  And he ALWAYS follows through.

My son is curious, and he is quick. Before he can finish thinking about what might happen if he throws a crayon into my drink at a restaurant, he has already done it.

He has a limited attention span; he can play anything or go anywhere for 15 minutes, but after that, he.is.done, even if that means that he tries running for the door and walking home.

He is highly sensitive and temperamental and much to my detriment, verbal. You can bet that if he does not like something you have done, he will let you know.  And he will tell you that he doesn’t love you because of it.  And, if you dare apologize for something you have done to upset him, he will likely let you know that “you’re no sorry!”

He does not respond well (or at all, really) to limit-setting or traditional negative consequences. Oh, did you say that I can’t have dessert or any other snacks if I don’t eat dinner?!? Don’t                   worry,“I no want dessert.”  You think I need a time out?? That’s fine.  After you chase me around for fifteen minutes, you can hold me in the corner the entire time, while I hit, and kick, and scream, and spit at you, until you just want to curl up in a ball and cry.

In fact, the very mention of a negative consequence usually comes with an escalation in the behavior itself, just to make sure that I am really going to follow through. Even in public.  Even in front of friends or family … and especially in front of anyone that I might want to impress … until I have officially lost my shit and look like a crazy person publicly.

What my son does respond well to is ignoring the negative behavior and encouraging the pro-social behavior. For example, rather than “Stop kicking the seat of the person in front of you (for the umpteenth time) or you are going to have to move your seat” which will surely turn into more kicking, asking him to move, him refusing, and me carrying him kicking and screaming to the new seat until I finally think he’s going to comply and then him running back to the original seat to resume the kicking, if I say, “Can you please show me how nice you can sit in your seat like a big boy,” he often can and does.  But do you have any idea how unnatural and therefore exhausting that is?!?

And anyone who has met my son knows that these are only a few examples. So, yes, if you looked up the synonyms for the word “challenging” which include defiant, rebellious, bold, demanding, taxing, difficult, tricky, and trying, I would say that ALL of those fit my son.

And, let’s be honest, it’s embarrassing.  There are definitely times when I can feel even the most non-judgmental people judging.  There are times when I am yelling at him or physically stopping him from hurting another child in public.  There are other times when I am trying to ignore the less serious behavior so that I can at least somewhat enjoy myself.  And there are times when I am playing it cool, all while dying on the inside.  The truth is, I am sometimes judging myself – his little shenanigans make me feel ineffective.

But, there are also a few other synonyms for the word “challenging” that fit him too. They include stimulating, thought-provoking, interesting, inspiring, and exciting.

I have learned more about myself as a person and as a mother over the last four years than ever before. I have learned to choose my battles wisely; not every battle is worth fighting; to stay on my toes; the importance of balance; and to look for the positives particularly when they are not glaring. He has taught me to relax, to not take myself so seriously, and to worry less about what others think.

And, life with him is more exciting. No two days look alike.  He has taught me that I cannot plan for and control everything (or everyone) in my life. And not only is that okay, that is exactly as it is supposed to be, because it is usually somewhere in the unexpected chaos that is life with my son, that I make mistakes, or actually get it right, and either way, we learn, and we grow.  Many days are spent yelling like a crazy woman, and many nights after he has gone to sleep are spent longing for a chance to do better tomorrow.

So, although there are times when being his mother is embarrassing and more “challenging” than I ever could have imagined, when I think about my son, I wonder, is there really anything more beautiful than another human being, no matter how small, who challenges you to look at yourself introspectively, to understand your shortcomings, your strengths, and to grow and be a better person?

So, kudos to my beautifully challenging child. My life is infinitely more full and interesting because you are in it.

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