Strong Willed Mommies

Strong willed Mommies

Show me a strong-willed child and I’ll show you a strong-willed mother.

After all, who really has the power in the parent-child relationship? The parent can at any moment take away food, toys, privileges and happiness in one fell swoop if he or she likes. All kids can do is throw hissy fits.

When a mother tells me her kids are strong-willed (especially if all her kids happen to be strong-willed), I suspect right away that in fact we’re dealing with a “Strong-Willed Mother.” She’s the one who knows how happy life could be, if only all those little half pints in her charge would shape up, cooperate and do as she says!

By the way, I love these moms. They’re among the most passionate home educators. Let’s take a moment to look at the profile of a strong-willed mommy.

  • They have a clear idea of what ought to be done, in what sequence, to what end, by what due date.
  • They spend energy preparing lessons or lesson plans, or they hone a philosophy without lessons.
  • They hold specific images in their minds of what success is for each child.
  • They are highly responsible (take seriously their duties to provide an education).
  • They feel pressured (by family, social network, even the mysterious “society at large”) to perform at a high level.
  • They usually care about check lists and completing assignments, though some are equally committed to crunchy, unschooly parenting tactics.
  • They’re seriously good at defending their point of view (lawyer-esque in their clarity and supporting reasoning).
  • They find it hard to believe that their kids don’t buy into the flawless logic of their brilliant positions!
  • They sincerely believe they are being reasonable in their expectations and have asked nicely, thankyouverymuch.
  • They resent influences that undermine their vision.

These moms present their case for what kids ought to be doing, feeling and thinking, and then expect cooperation. They’re stymied by what appears to be “out of line” thinking and get their feelings hurt when their children exhibit signs of distress or boredom, or when they challenge the reasoning of the stated objective. If this mom has read that getting to sleep before midnight improves a child’s mental acuity in the morning class session, then she finds it irksome if her son insists that midnight is the best time to play Warcraft to be with online friends who live halfway across the globe. Her reasoning is superior and he ought to see that as easily as she saw it.

I hope I don’t sound harsh. Some of her skills are ones I want! There’s a doggedness to her commitment to her goals that is laudable; her lessons that are well-prepared and received usually turn out so fabulously! Strong-willed moms have an enthusiasm for their passionate viewpoints that inspires others to take on their opinions and convictions. The other thing I love about strong-willed moms is their thirst to know more. They do change directions when new and better information is presented clearly and persuasively.

Perhaps the biggest myopia, however,
is that strong-willed moms sometimes project
their strength of will onto their kids (mirroring it back).

So when a child expresses disinterest, rather than really hearing that as an authentic representation of a genuinely valid viewpoint, the strong-willed mom assumes it means the child is being strong-willed (not cooperating) rather than seeing her attempts at enforcement as the evidence that she has the strong-will (unwilling to entertain or accommodate the child’s point of view). See what I mean? Strong-willed essentially means being so committed to your own point of view, opposition is perplexing and leads to conflict. Well, who is unwilling to be flexible? If once you dispense the program you are unwilling to entertain a child’s disinterest in it, the strong will is not his!

When thinking about home education, then, being strong-willed as a parent can be a liability. Home education is guided not by bureaucratic expectations or an impersonal instructor. At its heart, home education is about nurturing relationships. Parents and children are bonded to each other, which means that they are more expressive, more vested, and more likely to tell you when they are suffering than their peer group at school. To successfully navigate the home education relationship means the parent (who has the power by default) must discover how to enter into the mind-life and motivations of the children. Conversation about what works and what doesn’t, trusting a child’s subjective experience, believing a child’s reasoning (based on his or her developmental level) all comprise the parent/teacher, child/student relationship.

Strong willed mommies can use their strength of will effectively if they redirect it. Rather than being so tenacious about curriculum and objectives (and then how to “get your kids to do x, y and z”), give that same level of passionate commitment to understanding how your children experience their home life and studies. When they show distress or boredom or apathy, get interested. If you’ve got tears, you’re done. There’s nothing more to discuss or do that day. It’s gone too far. Regroup later and talk about what your child was feeling/thinking. Focus on your child’s internal experience, not on objectives. Here are some conversation starters.

  • I’ve noticed that you used to get up early and finish your math pages before breakfast. Lately you still aren’t done by noon. What happened, do you think? How can I help you?
  • Are you in pain?
  • Are you bored?
  • Are you nervous about failing?
  • Tell me how it is for you.
  • I’m your mother and I’m responsible for your education, but you matter to me even more. How can we ensure that we stay connected to each other while you also learn what you’re supposed to?
  • What one thing could I do for you today that would relieve this build-up of pressure?
  • If you could change one thing about _________ (math, writing, that report, your text book, this co-op class…), what would it be?
  • What is worrying you today?
  • If you could learn anything you want (money were no problem, time was free), what would it be and why?
  • I’m sorry for pushing so hard.
  • I’m sorry for not hearing you sooner.
  • I’m sorry you got frustrated to the point of tears. Have a brownie. (Or, go jump on the trampoline; take a walk; watch a movie.)
  • Do we need to hire a tutor?
  • Do we need to take a break from (math, writing, reading practice, tuba, dance)? How long sounds good to you?
  • Can we work out a deal here? (I need _______ from you, what do you need from me?)
  • Want to get a Coke? Let’s talk.
  • I love you. You matter to me. When you’re ready, please feel free to tell me what’s happening inside you (you can write it or we can go out for an ice cream). I promise to listen and not try to get you to change how you feel.

Having a strong vision for how to teach and what to cover is a strength worth cultivating. Holding it in an open hand when dealing with children who don’t have your vision, who are practical (not abstract), who feel different pressures than you feel is essential to preserving the relationship. Close relationships foster learning. Happiness is the context for achievement. Joy is the best teacher.

Reach out to the frustrated child today and see how it goes. Don’t solve problems. Try to simply describe them in detail and be aware of how your child sees the world.

Partnership Writing


21 Responses to “Strong Willed Mommies”

  1. Nancy says:

    You have described me completely! I am cut to the bone! I hope it’s not too late to change. I also admit having a really hard time relating to my boys when they are into something I have no interest in (ie. certain computer games, etc.). My 9ds could talk for hours about RuneScape and I honestly can not relate. Any suggestions?


  2. Julie Bogart says:

    Great to hear from you! Confession is good for the soul. ๐Ÿ™‚

    To relate to what you aren’t interested in… Hmmm. You’re married, right? Use those skills with your kids. So when your husband goes into his lengthy narrative about closing a deal or his favorite sports team or how much work he needs to do on the hedges, you listen, smile, show interest, feign caring because you love him.

    Same for your kids. Show them you care. Ask questions. Be supportive. Admit that you aren’t knowledgeable and ask them to teach you why this is compelling.

    Remember: If you expect them to be interested in copywork, the Middle Ages and how to do fractions, the least you can do is show interest in Runescape!

  3. Cindy says:

    WHOA!!! You have me pegged to the tee!!!!!!
    I appreciate the conversation starters – I see loads of places I should have used them last year, rather than “continuing on with the lesson, come hell or high water”! I am afraid that if I quit the math lesson when the kids got upset, then we would NEVER get any math lessons done.. .ever! I guess it takes faith, and stopping the lesson, and trying your suggestions to see that it wouldn’t work that way. I guess that in those suggestions themselves, you are teaching more. I DO see that happiness is the context for enjoyment and learning.
    Thanks again, Julie!

  4. Marianne says:

    Hello. My name is Marianne, and I’m a Strong-Willed Mommy ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve actually been in recovery for several years, but you’re article was a much-needed reminder and a lovely inspiration for me today.

    Thank you.

  5. Marianne says:

    *your article* That’s what I get for responding to anything before I finish my first cup of coffee. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Julie Bogart says:

    Ha ha! Welcome Marianne. Good for you. I swear, I love you ladies.

  7. Lydia says:

    This is great — it describes me to a T, probably about two years ago. I knew it all, seriously. ๐Ÿ™‚ Homeschooling Benny has been a great education for *me* along many of these points!

    You envision yourself and your child pushing a train down train tracks, and you’re on one end pushing east, and it feels like your child is on the other end, pushing west, but in fact, your child is over in the meadow digging up slugs, or is sitting beside the train tracks, counting rocks, or is actually in the train, asleep. Using those prompts at the end of your article is a good way to get out of that me vs. them mentality, when you just can’t understand why your child won’t push on your side of the train.

  8. Lizzy says:

    I’m bookmarking this so I can refer to those conversation starters. Another great resource, as always from Bravewriter. Thanks!

  9. Claire says:

    Have you been spying on me? LOL
    Great post. Thank you. My ds are too little yet for Brave Writer (oldest is 6) but your posts and lifestyle ideas are perfect for us. This is timely as my kids are small enough for me to cultivate some more relationship-friendly techniques.

  10. Dana says:

    Here’s the problem over here: I think strong-willed mommies naturally raise strong-willed children. You model it. You teach it. Then you try to punish them out of it when they, like good students, begin to emulate the character qualities you have instilled in them.

    I actually find my four year old the most difficult to parent. She is so malleable, so eager to please, so concerned with whether or not mommy is happy with her. She’s very compliant, but I worry sometimes what she will come when she is under pressure from sources who don’t have her best interests at heart.

    My eldest digs in her heels about something, and frustrating as it is at the time, in the back of my mind, I remind myself that no one else is going to be forcing her to do things she doesn’t want to do, either.

  11. Kika says:

    I’m listening… I know I’ve grown immensely over the past eight years of homschooling but still have lots to learn. I am most definitely a stubborn and strong-willed individual. I see advantages to this, like you’ve mentioned, but have always needed to figure things out “the hard way”. It is part of what makes me thrive in life, though. My second child is totally visual-spatial, creative, forgetful… MESSY! She is so much fun and sees the world from an entirely different perspective than my own so what a learning curve I’ve been on. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  12. Michelle Oliver says:


    I’m thinking you have a book due on parenting in addition to the homeschooling one you are writing. Your ability to get inside of people’s lives and experiences is a blessing to all.

    Joy to you!!

  13. I think Michelle makes an excellent point: I think there’s a parenting book in you, Julie, just waiting to burst forth!

    Susanne ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Sharon says:

    You cannot say enough on this subject. You have us pegged- ME pegged- and all that is left to be done is to spend as much time as possible being mentored out of the pitfalls of my character. This is exactly why I read your blog. You are blessing my family and serving the whole homeschool community!

    I am reading the Thomas Jefferson Education books and I love them. They challenge me in the same way. One of the basic principles that overlap between you and the author (DeMille) is “structure time, not content”. This is what I need to figure out. I have been so programmed with my lessons, I don’t know how to NOT structure content. What kind of planning can I do for students if I am not managing the content of their studies? I need some examples to help me see how the vision works.

    Thanks so much!

  15. Correne says:

    I’m such a Strong-Willed Mommy that I didn’t even realize you were criticizing us until 3/4 of the way through the post! You described me very well, and I was feeling pretty good about it, which is hilarious.

    I suppose my saving grace is that I actually RESPECT a strong will in children. I can relate to their point of view, having been this way my whole life. I have trouble understanding and respecting the compliant types.

  16. harrygirl says:

    I, along with all the other ladies commenting on your blog can relate to many of the things you wrote about. When we began homeschooling in 2001, well, really when we began parenting in 1996, we had a very clear idea of what needed to happen and when. Compliance from our children was the most important order of the day! Our children’s behaviour was really all that mattered – so crying and fighting about writing a number 8 were par for the course. It never occurred to us that they might have feelings (I know this sounds ridiculous – but this is the world we were living in at the time), or that there might be good reasons why they could not write a number 8. Thank goodness the last few years have brought about somewhat of an awakening in our family. Who would have thought they have feelings and needs (as important as mine), and that they might not want the same things I want! For me, the struggle now is how to inspire our 13yo son, who has O.C.D and really struggles with anxiety and who is roaring through puberty to want to and actually do any schoolwork of any kind. I am pleased that we have been able to see how important connection with our children is and so we work furiously to build a better connection with all our children. Our 13yo had the unfortunate pleasure of being our first child; the one who bore the brunt of the wisdom of our “Parents Know All” parenting approach for the first 10 years of his life. All of this makes for some fairly “hairy” school time and difficult relating. Has anyone else been in a similar situation with one of their kids? I will be sticking your list of conversation starters on my fridge, Julie. They are excellent, and exactly where our family is at right now. I, too would definitely read a parenting book you wrote.

  17. Susan says:

    Hi Julie,
    In one sense I felt the other ladies here have said exactly what I want to say. And yet, there is something slightly different in me as well. I think I can claim that label of strong-willed since my mom loves to tell the story that multiple times when I was still just an infant I would get mad, hold my breath until I passed out, and then start breathing again! I’m thankful none of my kids was that strong-willed!

    I made my 2nd, an 18 year old son on his way to college this fall, read your article and then tell me about me. I am so thankful my oldest two have grown-up with this strong willed mother and are wonderful and are truly my friends. There is hope for my last two.

    After fighting my 4th for most of his almost 13 years I have stumbled on some of these things by accident, but haven’t really known why they work. You have given me an understanding of more of the WHY. WHY helps me pull together my strength of will(!) and change.

    Thanks, and I look forward to part II of this post.

  18. Kimberly says:

    “Happiness is the context for achievement. Joy is the best teacher.” Ahhh, I love this. So eloquently put. I am a strong-willed mother, but I have only been cognizant of this fact for about 6 months. It takes a slow realization when one has been this way for her entire life! Yes, I have strong-willed children as well. We are entering our third year of homeschooling, and I am still trying to figure out how to proceed. Our first year went very well – in my opinion. I had the ‘perfect’ curriculum and we pushed our way through and I felt a sense of relief when every last page was complete. There were tears, ah yes, many tears from parent and students. But all of our i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed so I deemed it a successful year. Our second year we didn’t progress through our books page by page due to the fact that we moved mid year and life had the nerve to disrupt my seamless education plan. Funny thing happened, as I was unpacking box after box in our new country home, our 8 year old daughter developed a love for birds and spent hours absorbed in her field guide and identifying birds in our yard. Her eyes lit up when discussing ornithology and I began to see learning a bit differently. I have similar stories in regards to my 6 year old too.

    We finished all of our books from last year except for our math texts. We were all so burned out by June 1st that I just threw up my hands *gasp* and said, “that’s it. summer vacation beckons and we are done.” My strong-will has fought me these summer months….a nerve within me is plucked ever so slightly throughout each week that those math texts sit unfinished. How do I stop that???

    Fast forward to today. I am trying to figure out the upcoming year’s curriculum for my 2nd and 4th graders. I fought back the overwhelming urges to buy a legion of books that I know we won’t use but provide me comfort in knowing they are there. As Julie stated, I have a clear idea of what ought to be done, in what sequence, to what end, by what due date. But this isn’t how my daughters see things. I so badly want Joy to teach my children. I suspect that every child, at some point, has resistance to learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. But now I don’t know. I realize that happiness IS the context for achievement. But my strong-will fights me. It’s the proverbial devil and angel on the shoulder.
    My lines are blurred between what is ‘normal’ and what is strong-willed directed.

    Can you help? lol.

    I would like to add a foot note by saying that being strong-willed can and does have a positive purpose. My children have had to endure some great health challenges, and if not for their strong-willed mommy, and their subsequent strong-will, they would not be in this healthier place that they are now in. The trick is to direct the strong-will where it will be best served.

  19. Kika says:

    Hi Kimberly, I wanted to say something and don’t know if it’ll help but I have a daughter too, (as I mentioned above) who is SO different from me. She genuinely dislikes super structured learning and it almost makes her wilt. I am not willing to give up structure/planned learning altogether but little changes have helped us. For instance, giving her an agenda with what I’d like her to cover in a day, but letting her choose WHEN to accomplish the tasks, made her happier. If I wanted her to do a science lapbook or report, I would give her freedom to choose the topic. At age nine, she is designing her own day-timer which gives her a sense of increased ownership in her homeschooling. I ask her to compile a list of 10 novels she’d like to read over the following year and then I put them into my long-range plans. The list can go on… basicially, by allowing her lots of choice and freedom within my boundaries, we’ve been able to work joyfully (for the most part) together. Our personalities and learning styles are so different but I think it is healthy for both of us to learn how to respect one another and work toward common goals.

  20. Julie Bogart says:

    Kika – perfect! This is actually the content of my new post that is slowly emerging (Losing Control). The idea in home education is striking a balance between what you need to feel that you are fulfilling your responsibilities to your kids against their need to have a say in their educations. This is an ongoing discussion with myriad iterations, but utterly worth honoring.

    Each year we reinvent homeschool and each year our kids become more self-aware and hopefully self-reliant too (which may include making choices we, the parents, don’t like).

    More soon!


  21. Kimberly says:

    Thank you, Kika! The day planner is a GREAT idea. I love your ideas, and appreciate your feedback very much!