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Strong-willed kids can become spectacular adults

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

“Parenting is a challenge that is both frustrating and fulfilling,” my father once wrote. “During the frustrating times you try everything — orthodox methods, unorthodox methods, and all sorts of methods in between.”

I still remember his illustration. My younger siblings were at it again. Sister Rachel had called brother Forest a name.

“I want her to write this fifty times,” Forest had asked Dad. “Then maybe she’ll think twice before she calls me that name again.”

His requested text:

“In the future, far or near, I will not under any circumstance of any kind call my brother, Robert Forest Smith III, any bad names for any period of time or do anything of any kind to insult my brother in front of company of any kind, because it is not a good habit or a good thing to do to anyone or anything. But if I do this ugly and cruel thing to Robert Forest Smith III again, I will copy this statement twice the number of times I did this time.”

Dad agreed. The creative penalty was effective; she never wrote it again.

Rachel was my parents’ strong-willed child, a masterful limit-tester who gave them their “parenting stripes,” Dad would joke.

She often stirred things up, from raiding my closet to speaking her mind at the darndest times. Unbridled by fear or consequences, she regularly challenged our parents.

Yet, this defiant and confident behavior served her well, I’ve observed, as she grew up and we plowed through adversity together.

But I have never seen it quite so clearly until this latest incident.

For 89 days, my life was turned upside down from an injury I sustained while transferring from my wheelchair. The scrape was small, but went unnoticed because of my paralysis. It became a wound. Once discovered, specialized treatments and nursing care seemed to be working until I re-injured it and one wound became two.

Five hundred fifty-three miles away, Rachel had faithfully listened to each update for the first 75 days. But when she learned of the second injury, her tone changed.

“I’m coming up, Sissy,” she said simply. I protested, but she was insistent.

Confidently defiant.

For seven days, she waited on me, serving me breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She made sure I was in bed 23 hours a day relieving the pressure on the wound, a key element in healing we were told.

She talked to the nurses, questioned the doctors, googled, texted, and emailed on my behalf. But mostly she sat on my bedroom couch and stayed with me to help me heal.

Three days after she left, I rang the bell at the Wound Care Center. Both wounds had closed!

Dad was right. Parenting can be frustrating. And for those of us with our own limit-testing strong-willed kids, it is comforting to know they can turn into spectacular adults.

I am grateful my parents chose to creatively parent.

I am grateful that confident defiance can mature into steadfast caring.

I am grateful that Rachel is my sister.