07 Jun 2016

Why I Fell in Like With My Strong-Willed Child All Over Again Last Night

When I had already finished and turned in my first draft of my book, Surprised by Motherhood, my editor told me it was missing a chapter.

This came as a surprise to me.

She thought I needed to share more about my middle-born. My passionate son, Micah. She thought he was the child and his was the story so many other mothers would take comfort in reading.

That’s how chapter 10 came about. It’s called, “How to Fall in Like.” Because loving our kids is one thing. But there are seasons of mothering when liking them can be hard and it can hurt us to admit that out loud. I know many of you all know what I’m talking about because at conferences women will come up to me and whisper just one sentence, “I have a Micah, too.”

And I’ll know exactly what you mean and we’ll hug and look each other in the eye and find comfort and solidarity there.

When I was going through the most challenging of those Micah years, a friend told me one night while we were loading suitcases into the back of a minivan, “Lisa-Jo, it’s those passionate ones that will surprise you the most. You won’t even believe what God can do with His life.”

I wanted to believe her but it just mostly felt like a kind sentiment to a beat-down mother and so I smiled like we do and nodded like, sure, sure He will.

But yesterday I stood outside my front door with another friend as she described her passionate kid to me and I saw the ache in her eyes and how she didn’t believe me when I told her how great it could get. How these wild and wonderful kids see the world in a way that shakes their parents awake. It can be loud and uncomfortable, but it can also be good.

For a long time I wanted God so desperately to change Micah. Turns out He was always using Micah to change me – like some kind of human mirror I looked into Micah and discovered all these parts of myself I’d never seen before. Parts for good and also for chaos; parts that needed direction and taming and love and challenges.

Four years after I wrote my chapter about learning to fall in like with my son, I climbed into bed to tuck him in last night and thought my insides would actually split out my chest I like that kid so much.

That kid who is learning that there’s nothing wrong with having, “big feelings.” It’s what we do with them that counts. And I should mention that everything I share about him is pre-approved by Micah. Just in case you’re wondering.


He’d spent all afternoon weeping because the two tiny kittens we adopted a couple weeks ago were nowhere to be found. His dad and I were certain they were in the house, taking cover from the loud lawnmower and that they’d emerge eventually. But nothing could calm him. Nothing could put my hulk of an eight year old at peace.

So he wailed red-faced around the house desperately calling their names and clanging a can of cat food to try and draw them out. I’m sure all the noise only sent them deeper into hiding. But all his feelings and his love and his commitment to caring for those cats came pouring down his face and the whole family was moved. I promised him we’d find them. And then I sent him out of the room so I could try and locate the tiny pets without them being scared deeper into the bowels of my desk, where they seem to have taken up residence.

The thing is, while I knew those cats were fine, I also knew how invested I was in reuniting them with my son. I needed to make it right for him. I needed to see his love deeply returned. And on hands and knees I found his favorite kitten curled up on a pile of my printer paper and scooped her up to return her in person to my son. I knew he needed to see her. It wouldn’t be enough to just hear the words; his eyes and hands needed to know for themselves that the truth was alive and well in front of him.

What I didn’t realize is that the tears wouldn’t stop.

Once he had that tiny ball of white fluff wrapped up in his arms and sweetly pressed against his chest he looked up at me and all his love, all his giant feelings, were still pouring down his face and heaving his chest. So I gently told him to take a breath, and love his babies, and try not to scare them with his feelings. To which he replied, “Yes, but mom, these are happy tears.”

And if possible I loved him even more.

But he took a giant breath and rocked his kitty and when she was safely stowed back in her box with her sister he walked over to me and put his head against my side and asked, “Can I let out my happy cry now, mom?”

And my eyes were wet too when I said, “yes, of course!” And I stood outside the laundry room door and just rocked his big body from side to side with mine. He’s too heavy now to lift, but we can sway like two trees in the tender wind of our big feelings.

What I’m trying to say is that if you’re still in the trenches where the big feelings in your house are an out of control tornado, I wanted to give you a glimpse. A small moment that is a treasure to me and a testimony that our kiddos will start to grow into their feelings and learn how to name them and ride them instead of being thrown buck wild to the ground by them every time a storm blows through.

I’ve never liked or loved my son more than yesterday afternoon as he let loose his big, happy feelings at the appropriate time. His hot, wet face was pressed against my side and I loved him and liked him and we’re writing all the next chapters together of what life looks like in the wake of a kid who can move mountains with his heart.


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Literally came across my screen as I’m sitting on my son’s steps because he won’t stop screaming during what is supposed to be nap time. God definitely used you to speak life into my heart as it was becoming very closed toward my little man today. Thank you. P.S. Whoever said terrible twos never warned a mom about three.

    • 2
      Lisa-Jo says:

      Three and four were our worst years. But hang in there, he will grow into his feelings and use them to move mountains one day. I believe it.

  2. 3

    OK, now I’ll just let out my own happy cry. For most of last year my strong-willed boy was depressed – and it was impossible for either of us to find the happy boy he used to be. Thanks to some very nice health professionals (and some medication) we have been working on helping him and today my boy was super excited to go to school for his field trip to the park with all the friends he has made over this school year (at a new school) – I am so super proud of him and so happy that I got my boy back. He has also learned to name some of those big feelings he has and that is definitely helping.

    • 4
      Lisa-Jo says:

      Our kids’ victories – sweeter than any we’ve lived ourselves. It never fails to amaze me.

  3. 5

    Miraculous :)
    mine is learning how to apologize for letting right feelings come out wrong, from me. i do it so unbelievably often, i get a million chances to do the whole ‘saying sorry’ thing.
    And I feel like a failure and I will mess him up bit maybe…maybe I’m just.giving him some ALL CAPS real life examples?

  4. 6
    Valerie says:

    This is so encouraging. My 4.5 year old is so wild – and I never would have thought of that word if you hadn’t used it! Mental note to read your book, which I finally purchased a few days ago. Chapter 10. Thank you for sharing this, and for giving me hope that my strong-willed, smart (sometimes too smart!), bull-headed, stubborn, overly emotional and dramatic little girl will grow into her feelings as we learn together. (Mama needs to learn, too. I know that.)

  5. 7

    Thank you for this! It has been a rough day in our house with my wild one and I stuck away to breathe deeply and compose myself enough to make it through the rest of the day. This was exactly what I needed to read in this moment.

  6. 8

    Thank you! I needed this desperately today. My 6 yr old daughter is a hurricane of emotion all the time. Sometimes it’s so hurtful and I’m so emotionally exhausted. I feel like such a failure. I just want to know how to help her and make it better. I know God has big plans for her, that he is working on us both. Thank you for sharing about your sweet boy!

  7. 9
    Emily Hartung says:

    My older sister and I were Micah’s to the core. I was so strong willed I think I disagreed with my mother on principle until I turned 18. We were terrible kids who never wanted to listen. I can guarantee we were some of the hardest to parent. Today we are both faith-filled women. As bad as I feel for who awful I was as a child I am so grateful for a mom who never gave up.

  8. 10

    I too, have a Micah. Her name is Eden. On Sun and Mon she screamed and tantrumed about a sewing project that she wanted to do. Sun morning we had to leave for church and she was wailing b/c she couldn’t begin her project. I promised that later on that afternoon we would go find the zipper she needed. Later that day when I was trying to figure out how one sews in a zipper, (I didn’t know that you could hand sew a zipper in) we googled and every video came up using a machine. “Oh honey, I think we need some help from Nana and her machine”. Arms crossed. Lips tight. Nope. No machine. She wanted to do it all herself. By hand. I can’t tell you how many meltdowns I had to endure over 2 days as she struggled through the sleeping-bag-with-the-zipper-for-Bunny. I feared for my sanity after meltdown #16. On Mon morning as soon as she arose, she was sewing again. Mon afternoon after school and then just before dinner…. glorious, glorious success. The pride and joy in her face were priceless. She had done it, pretty much all by herself. A sleeping bag for Bunny. The shining light at the end of the tunnel of huge emotional meltdowns was a girl who had succeeded in persevering and had created something that she was extremely proud of. What a moment for me too. The strong-willed, strong-minded, emotional dirvish that drives me nutty some days had shown me what strength can accomplish. I know that her strength and strong willed nature will serve her well in adulthood. I just pray every day for the strength and patience I need to get her there!

  9. 11
    Jill B. says:

    I just finished your book Sunday night. My Micah is 12 and she can’t seem to get through the day without an attitude. The things you say in the book never occur to me to say or do. I’m trusting God to give us both an attitude adjustment. Sigh.

  10. 12

    I loved this post and it came at such a good time for me. I have had a particularly rough time with my 9 year old strong willed son over the last few months. His strong feelings (whether sad, disappointed, hurt, scared, anxious) seem to come out as anger, usually directed at me. So hard to handle his emotions and my own many days. I am learning so much about motherhood and life from him. He is a challenge for sure, and I feel stressed out and heartbroken many nights after he is finally asleep, but then we begin again the next day and I have hope that things will turn out okay in the end, despite my parenting mistakes.

    • 13
      Jenelle says:

      Hi Liz,

      Not giving up is such a wonderful and strengthening part of motherhood. That is awesome to allow each day to be it’s own. It’s so easy sometimes to want to carry over from yesterday and let the hurts and sorrows of that day color the new one. Way to let God be new every morning. :)

  11. 14
    ainemistig says:

    First of all…has it really been four years since you wrote that?!
    Oh, how can time both crawl and fly?

    Anyway….I have a Micah. We’re getting to the good stuff. I have another son who is going through a “micah” phase right now, and reading this tonight was perfect timing for me.

    Thank you for sharing.

    He’s going to be a great Dad one day. You can tell him I said that.

  12. 15
    Jenelle says:

    Dear Lisa-Jo,

    I am so glad that God had your blog come across my email about a year ago. Truly your journey has encouraged and uplifted me. Many blogs have come and gone in that time frame, but your words have stood the test of time for this easily distracted, easily blow woman. I am a big feel kid. I was the child you wrote about. My family often didn’t know what to do with me so my heart was hurt often. God has seen fit to give me 4 children who all have big feels too. Who are stretching me, changing me, and causing me and my husband to move outside of ourselves to meet them where they are. Thank you for your honesty and your heart. I am so grateful to have your blog in our lives.

  13. 16

    I literally just said to my husband before I read this, ” I don’t know what to do with (my middle, passionate child). He just has. So. Many. Big feelings.”. He is totally different than my other 2 and it is overstimulating to me try and soothe his 3 year old self everytime someone does something he doesnt like. I need to focus on being empathetic and connected. Thanks for the encouragement this morning.

  14. 17

    Oh, Lisa-Jo, I both am one of those kids and have 2 of these kids. My husband was also a deep feeler who learned to hide his emotions at a young age because he was tired of crying. I learned to hide them because they were not welcome. Now my boys are highly emotional and they overwhelm me. Thank you for showing the good side of these Highly Sensitive People. The beautiful side. And thank you for loving yours so well.

  15. 18

    Crying at work again – note to self, save your beautiful stories for night time when I am at home :)

  16. 19
    Carissa says:

    What I wouldn’t give to have coffee (or uh, tea) with you. In all seriousness. I’m still having a hard time not letting those big feelings get me irritated most times :( but yeah… My son is totally a mirror, too.
    I guess I’ll settle for the next-best thing in words on a screen and in a book :) But still. Tea?

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