Just a Little Stubborn
- Linda Rondeau Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2012 24 Jul
The temperature soared to 95 degrees, and it was only nine o’clock in the morning. Hailing from the North, these blistering temperatures challenged the very act of breathing. The beads of perspiration dripping from my forehead blurred my vision somewhat, but I was certain it was my son on the end of the third row standing among all the other sons and daughters dressed in familiar drab greens. The soldiers stood in perfect formation, even my Jim. It was boot camp graduation at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. There were many mothers assembled, but I knew I was one of the proudest. The journey to this time and place had been difficult for the both of us.
For many young people, the first few months out of college is a difficult transition. Some are fortunate to know they will attend graduate school or find employment in their field of education. Jim was one of the uncertain multitudes. When he announced his decision to enter the Army, mouths remained agape for several seconds. Of all the choices available to him, this was the least expected.
Jim’s developmental years were spent in passionate rebellion. According to pre-military Jim, authority was to be challenged at every turn. Learning to surrender unquestioning obedience to less than perfect human beings would prove to be Jim’s ultimate test of endurance.
My son was the author of The Art of Passive Resistance for Children. Like the mountain, he would not be moved. Because he refused to be born, labor had to be induced. I tease him that he was born stubborn and stayed that way. From the very beginning, Jim proved to be a parent’s answer to a prayer for patience. He was Defiance in the flesh. He challenged every form and creative measure of discipline I could invent.
Feeling that somehow Jim’s non-compliant nature had a direct relationship to some motherly deficiency, I set out on a course of correction. I had grown weary of the countless parent-teacher conferences ending in the insinuation that I needed to take parenting classes. I was a professional social worker. Certainly, I was smarter than a nine year old.
Believing that Jim might benefit from increased socialization, I volunteered to be a den mother. This solution was quickly sabotaged by the child’s fierce competition for my attention. The meetings benefited no one, and I resigned. Discouragement deepened as I continued to blame myself for Jim’s behavior problems and seemingly poor motivation.
School problems intensified with Jim’s refusal to complete homework assignments in spite of scrutiny. The more determined I became that Jim would complete his assignments, the more clever and manipulative the resistance. As a means of support, Jim’s teachers offered to assist him after school. My suspicions grew when it was discovered that Jim was successful in completing assignments for his least favorite teachers yet persistently avoided completing work for teachers he most favored.
I became desperate and tried grounding Jim from extracurricular activities with no improvement. I even resorted to removing the television from his room. Jim read comic books instead. Every consequence was met with little or no grief. Like Cool Hand Luke, he endured the penalty and played the game with aplomb.
The battles were endless and were not limited to the educational arena. Although a very intelligent young man, Jim seemed incapable of putting his shoes on the corresponding feet. I believed myself to be an educated and enlightened parent and attempted to utilize the latest behavior modification techniques even to the extent of labeling his shoes with the "R" and the "L" and placing them in proper order next to his bed. All Jim had to do was merely slip his feet into the shoes and all would be well. However, Jim continued to wear his shoes on the wrong feet until he connected his scraped knees and bruises to the frequent falls and the frequent falls to the fact his shoes were on the wrong feet. Eureka! Shoes miraculously appeared on the corresponding feet.
Financial teaching and encouragement to participate in household chores resulted in equal amounts of resistance. If I fined Jim’s allowance when expected work was not completed, he simply managed with less income. Jim’s bedroom looked like the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. To instill a sense of cleanliness, some mechanism was sought for the containment of soiled clothing. I provided him with his own personal clothes hamper. Yet, underwear continued to find its way into radiators and underneath furniture while the designated receptacle remained empty. When Jim’s paper route money disappeared into the bowels of his room, never to be found again, the room was transformed into a paradigm of orderliness.
The secret to Jim’s motivation was gradually becoming unveiled. He only changed behaviors that created problems for him. If it were in his own best interest to change, he did so with little or no coaxing. My exaggerated efforts to alter Jim’s exasperating habits served only to provide him with hours of amusement.
Still plagued by feelings of my own inadequacy, the feelings deepened when Jim’s teacher requested a psychological evaluation. She strongly recommended a high dose of Ritalin or anti hyperactivity medication as a curative for behaviors she described as daydreaming and distractibility.
I knew Jim demonstrated poor attention at home as well. The contents of his heftily filled spaghetti plate invariably landed on the floor as he carried it from the kitchen to the dining room. “JIM! PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU ARE DOING!" was my daily siren blast. Reluctantly, I agreed to the evaluation, certain my inadequacies as a mother would be accusingly hurled in my direction as the causative factors.
When the day of the appointment arrived, I was in utter despair, convinced of my failure as a mother. A woman of faith, I turned to the only hope I knew. I asked God to help me understand my son’s resistance so that I could find a way to point him in the right direction. I feared for his future if he continued on this path of defiance. I was reminded of the verse:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5 NIV).
While Jim spoke with the psychiatrist, I was jolted from my self-recrimination with a sudden revelation. There was absolutely nothing intrinsically wrong with Jim.The problem was seeded in my inability to see my child for the person he was. I was trying to change a lion into a kitten. I wanted an acquiescent, pliable child; but this was not the raw material God created in Jim. His composite nature was unique, a special blend of willfulness, stubbornness, and contrariness.
Linda Rondeau is the author of America II: The Reformation (Trestle Press) and The Other Side of Darkness (Pelican Ventures) which won the 2012 Selah Award for best debut novel. She is the editor of Geezer Guys and Gals blog, a multi-author blog for and by seniors, and also blogs at This Daily Grind.