In Journey of a Strong-Willed Child readers are taken into the heart of a family seeking to raise their children – three boys, the middle child the titular one — with the end goal of mature, godly adults in mind. Written predominantly by the Smiley family’s mother, Kendra, retrospective first person commentary is provided by strong-willed son Aaron, with helpful advice from “resident dad” John concluding each chapter.
The term “strong-willed child” has nearly become an official descriptor in Christian circles due to the renowned Dr. James Dobson’s work in this arena of parenting struggle. The Smiley’s aren’t looking to replace Dobson’s work, but rather they add a deeply personal, frank, and first-hand sharing of their experiences raising Aaron from early childhood through to his college years. This journey doesn’t offer comprehensive coverage of every technique and resource you can call upon as you shepherd your child through life. What it provides is insight into the thought processes of a former strong-willed child who is now a mature, responsible, productive adult (a practicing veterinarian) and the true-life struggles and learning curves his parents went through.
Secretly many parents wonder if their children are strong-willed. Why don’t they do what I ask them to, why are they so stubborn? Early in their book, the Smiley family outlines the defining characteristics of a strong-willed child without relying on checklists or surveys. Some children who appear strong-willed are suffering from ineffective or inconsistent discipline, and that is the first line of attack the Smiley’s recommend in both determining if your child is strong-willed, and following through with firm, appropriate boundaries if it is determined that your child is particularly tenacious.
A slender volume, the Smiley’s break Aaron’s years into categories roughly equivalent to the major distinctions found within the education system: Birth to Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten to Grade Six, Junior High, High School, College and Beyond. Much advice is given relating to Aaron’s difficulties with his schoolteachers. Homeschoolers will find this information useful with other authority figures in their child’s life, but they will likely encounter those own struggles themselves – an additional level of daily struggle. The Smiley’s aren’t able to offer insights into continual full-time interactions with a strong-willed child at home, but inferences can be made. Interestingly Aaron takes the writing lead in the chapter “College and Beyond”. Once he takes charge of his own course in life he likewise takes the lead in this chapter. Mother and father are relegated to the comments section, as they are now in an advisory role rather than that of director.
The openness and honesty the three co-authors share with their readers in order to encourage them in their calling as parents is refreshing. They share both the principles they discovered that worked, the areas they could have improved upon, and the often-painful learning curves they moved through as a family. Key goals that the Smiley’s adopted for their son are explored and discussed as they worked together with God to bring Aaron’s strong will into balance. Brothers Matthew and Jonathan also make guest appearances as they share the impact their strong-willed sibling has had on their lives. Through it all Aaron offers his personal recollections and advice for parents, helping readers to understand the internal struggles, strong emotions, and thought processes of their strong-willed child.
Although it seems that none of my children are strong-willed (at least as far as I can determine to date), I was blessed to read the encouragement and principles that apply to all parents. The emphasis on old-fashioned, straight forward discipline and boundaries, building up your child and standing by your child in love while requiring responsible, respectful behaviour is a reminder we can all use from time to time. Parents with young, strong-willed children will be reassured by the debunking of myths surrounding this aspect of their child’s personality, and encouraged to see the blessings that come from this extraordinary trait when properly guided.