Last night we grilled a few sirloins. I live in a house with four girls (technically 5 because our dog is a girl) and thankfully they are all meat lovers. Personally, I am glad that they are meat lovers because that means that I can grill some steak for them every once in a while.
When it came time to serve the steak, I do what I normally do and started to cut up the steak into pieces for my daughters. But that night, our four year old didn’t want me to cut it. She wanted to cut it. But she is too young to use a knife. I offered at least four times to cut her steak, but she just sat there and told us that she wanted to do it. My wife and I kept going back and forth, trying to reason with her. But as many of you know, trying to reason with some four year olds is about as easy as trying to convince a snapping turtle to let go of the stick that you just dangled in front of its mouth.
After several minutes of watching her sit there in stubbornness, she started to try to rip apart her steak with her hands and her fork. I interjected and told her that this was not possible: “Ellie, you cannot cut your steak with your fork! It will not work!” But my patient wife said, “Let’s see what happens.” I kept insisting that she was going to hurt herself with the fork as she was jabbing it into the meat.
Believe it or not, she got a piece off of the steak and threw it in her mouth with the biggest smile ever. She said, “I don’t like it…I love it!” She ended up eating the steak with her hands and her fork. This reminded me of her traumatic birth and I was thankful to have this moment with her last night. I realized that her stubbornness in eating that piece of meat is probably what kept her fighting for her life when she was born. When she made up her mind to cut her steak with a fork, then she was going to use that fork. When she decided that she was going to live, even though she lost over half of her blood and the doctors gave us little to no hope that she would live past the first few days, she lived.
As a parent, it is often hard to determine what is God-given stubbornness that will be used for God’s glory versus downright sin. It is our job as parents to cultivate the spirit inside of our child without breaking that same spirit. And if you have multiple children in your home, you will see that every child’s “stubbornness factor” is different. Some kids are so easy going that you wish they had a little more passion to help them accomplish great things as an adult.
Dr. James Dobson, in his book on parenting strong-willed children, wrote that we should focus on “breaking the will, not the spirit.” As a parent, you must bring the will of the child under obedience. This might sound harsh, but it simply means that you teach your child to listen and obey when you mean it. We all have wills that must be disciplined to obey. Also, understand that the spirit is the essence of the child’s character. Work hard to never break his or her spirit through harsh criticism, mean-hearted language or shaming them.
Last night, I wanted to force Ellie to let me cut the meat for her. But she wouldn’t let me because she wanted to use the knife. I would not let her use the knife because it is dangerous (breaking the will), but Amy and I let her cut it her own way (preserving the spirit). We are not experts in raising children. There are so many moments when I feel so inadequate as a parent. But I learned a valuable lesson in breaking the will while preserving the spirit as I watched our stubborn little daughter happily eat her meat.