Stacy Oliver sat down with Kendra Smiley and her son, Aaron Smiley, to talk about the joint effort "Aaron's Way."
CBP: I just loved your book, Aaronís Way! Itís very practical, not theoretical.
Kendra: Iím glad to hear that, because thatís what Aaron was really pushing for. We wanted readers to get something out of this, so they know what to do.
Aaron: A lot of the parents we encounter, itís not identifying their strong-willed child, itís what do we do. So that was our intention.
CBP: Itís encouraging to read about your experiences, and to know that Aaron became a responsible adult, has friends, and who has a great relationship with his parents. How do you assure parents that their independent child will have good friendships?
Kendra: Well, weíve been doing strong-willed seminars for seven years, and one of the very first ones a woman came over and asked where Aaron was. I pointed to him, he was over putting out some books, and she said, ďOh good, he looks so normal!Ē She was checking him out.
Aaron: What a relief! I look normal!
Kendra: I donít know what she thought, but was relieved to see a functioning adult; a contributing member of society.
CBP: What made you write this book?
Kendra: Thereís a good story that goes with that question. A friend called and said, ďYou said Aaron was strong willed. I look at him, heís so responsible, a great guy. We look at our own son, and I donít think heíll ever be a responsible adult. Could we come to your home and talk to you?Ē They arrived at our home on Good Friday, when Aaron was a freshman in college. We visited, the kids went outside to play ball, and we started talking about Aaron. We didnít get very far in our conversation before Aaron came home a day early for Easter vacation. I wondered how he would feel about us talking about him, but he jumped into the conversation, and dominated it in a very positive way. I saw the light bulb go off in their heads. It was a God thing. In fact, the father was telling a story about his son in science class, he couldnít belive what his son had done. In the middle of telling it, Aaron said to let him finish the story. He told them what their son had done, because he knew how the son was thinking. It was incredible! The dad at that point had a different view of his son: maybe God made him this way.
I couldnít sleep that night, woke up my husband John, and told him that we had to write this book. If one family could see that their child was not trying to beat them up, we could help others. We had to write this book.
Itís been a wild time, a lot of pain, a lot of mother/son time.
Aaron: A lot of phone calls.
CBP: What are you doing now, Aaron?
Aaron: Iím married, and attending veterinary school.
Kendra: So if youíve got a sick dog and can wait two years, Aaronís your man. Weíre hoping the book keeps going and going, so that eventually we can put ďDr. Aaron SmileyĒ as the co-author. And even that, to think that he has a career in a couple of years that heís always wanted, itís very exciting. If he hadnít learned to give up his control to his parents, and ultimately to God, it would have never happened.
CBP: You talk about choosing your battles and standing firm with the strong-willed child. How do you know which is a critical issue and which is okay to let them win?
Kendra: First of all, I think we as parents battle with our children over the stupidest things that do not have eternal significance. One of the goofy things we used to say at our house was, ďIs anyone going to go to hell because of it?Ē And weíd evaluate it, and 99 times out of 100, no. Does it have eternal significance? Does it matter if your kid wears bad plaid to church? No. Do we argue about stuff like that? Yes. Because to us, we wonít look good as parents if our child doesnít look good. So what is important? There was never a question if we were going to go to Sunday School or church. And it wasnít even an issue, because mom and dad went, no double standard. You canít have double standards, it doesnít work. The think is with strong-willed children, theyíre always looking for the chink in the armor.
If there was ever a time when we would draw a line and they chose to cross it, they were not going to win that one.
Aaron: Right. Another thing was respect in our household. Dad made sure we showed respect to mom. He was such an authoritative figure that we didnít really ever disrespect him, and I knew there were consequences to pay. But he was very vigilant about not letting us be disrespectful to mom. That was an important thing to learn, because it takes the focus off of you. Thatís for all children, but especially strong-willed children because they can get so disrespectful that they knock people off of their heels. They try to shock. Of course, thereís a big scale of what is disrespectful, but dad was vigilant.
Kendra: That carries over to all relationships, not showing disrespect. I remember in junior high school, Aaron had a teacher who Ė I agreed with Aaron Ė she was a loony bird. We agreed with Aaron, but we told him he could not win this, unless she asked him to do something illegal or immoral. He didnít have to have a great deal of respect for her as a human being, but she was his teacher. He had to respect the position that she held.
Aaron: A lot of it has to do with what your personal priorities are. If you have something important to your family, say, you have to wear a kilt Ė thatís a funny example, I know Ė but if thatís something important to your familyís values, then you make your child do it.
Kendra: Thatís part of the reason itís so difficult to be a parent. You canít look up in the index under kilts, or bad plaid, so you have to decide. Thatís why itís so nice to have two parents, because you can check one another.
Aaron: Another question to ask yourself is, ďWhy?Ē It doesnít have to be explained to the child, because he will dialog with you a million reasons not to. But just to know in your own mind, and to think about whether it has eternal significance. Evaluate why you are asking your child to do something. If you have a legitimate reason, hey, youíre the parent. Okay then.
Kendra: Some parents will ask if we made Aaron keep his room clean. No, it wasnít important to us. My mom never made me. Now, did I make him go to speech class? Yes, because I wanted him to be articulate. What we are trying to do in these seminars is give parents permission to be parents. It is incredible. I get emails every week, and I tell them, ďYouíre the parent. Donít try to be their friend.Ē
One thing I like that Aaron says in the book is not only donít discipline in anger, but donít discipline with any emotion at all. I wouldnít be angry with Aaron, but I would feel sorry for himÖ
Aaron: And I would use that to get all sorts of things. Up until the point of punishment, I could negotiate all sorts of things because I would make her feel sorry for me. What a lot of parents say, ďThis is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.Ē Be honest Ė it shouldnít be. The whole point of discipline is to make a child feel uncomfortable, be it taking away toys or Nintendo, or a spank, itís to make him uncomfortable. So my father would say, ďItís going to hurt you a lot more than it hurts me.Ē And he instantaneously had control of the situation because he told the truth. And the illustration I use in our seminars is, we donít go through the check-out lines and after the person scans it try to barter. We say, ďWell I saw the price of the milk, so Iím going to pay that.Ē With your strong-willed child, itís so important to have that mindset. This is what the child did, picked it up off the shelf and knew he had to pay for it.
CBP: Tell us about teaching consequences to your child.
Aaron: The challenge of strong-willed children is that they look to the future, and will try to make you think they donít care about the punishment. As a parent, you have to be patient, and persistent with them. Theyíre going to try to convince you, because it is uncomfortable, that it doesnít bother them. But it does, and you have to be patient.
Kendra: Right, letís do this three times and see how you like having whatever. I think these kids are above-average intelligence. Just last week we got an email from a dad, whose wife said that discipline didnít work with their child. We emailed back, and said they had to be persistent. It will work.
Weíve lost touch. We want to be our kidís friends. Issues? Whatís that? A mom once said, ďIím so afraid of giving my son issues.Ē I said, ďHe needs some issues.Ē We walk on eggshells as parents. My husband tells people to say, ďYou are the child, I am the parent.Ē Thatís gotten fuzzy in our world, and thatís not loving.
Aaron: On that note, we dedicate the book to Dad, because he had the hardest job. What he did was completely contrary to what I wanted him to do. So if at one moment he ever stopped to get my input on what was best, if he didnít realize I was the child and he was the parent, I would have gone 180 degrees in the wrong direction. I wouldnít be sitting here right now, having this wonderful experience of having written a book at the age of 23. Itís because he had a vision to where things were going. And contrary to everything that I was screaming, he said, ďNo, no. Iím the parent, youíre the child. This is the direction weíre going.Ē
CBP: What I like about your story is that you actually had quite a bit of freedom and responsibility growing up. You werenít living in a dictatorship.
Aaron: Oh, no. The thing thatís important is that you teach your child to respond to you, so then you can give them more freedom to go further than any other child. Why? Because you know you donít have to put them on a leash, because they obey. Parent though are so short sighted. Theyíre tired, or they want to be the friend, or just so short sighted that they donít want to teach their child. We can experience so much more because youíre under the control of someone who knows a sharp knife on the counter is not just sparkly, it can really hurt you.
Kendra: We get things like, ďI told my daughter no, but at the last minute I changed my mind because I thought it was really important for her to go to ballet. She loves ballet.Ē And I say, ďAre you raising a ballerina or are you raising a child with good character that knows to relinquish their control to God.Ē Parents think their raising football players or ballerinas, so they donít go to church. Or they think being in church isnít fun for their child. But you can make it fun, even if your pastor isnít. Ask questions, get their opinions. But really, how many kids are going to be Sammy Sosa?
Something to consider is, itís always easiest to start when the child is born. But, if theyíre still breathing thereís hope.
Weíve also had some feedback from people who werenít the intended audience. One was an elderly gentleman who really likes Aaron and read the book. He got done reading the book, and said, ďYour mom wrote this book about me. My parents didnít know what to do. And even though I am a Christian, I have a terrible time giving my control to other human beings, and even to God.Ē Not living an abundant life by not giving God control. But we said heís still breathing.
Another interesting one was from a senior pastor of a large church who has a strong-willed child. He read the book, and communicated with me and said that it applied to a staff member that he was having trouble with. He used the principles of parenting with his staff.
CBP: How can parents work with their childís teachers?
Aaron: Itís very important. As a child grows, they go from a world that is controlled by parents to other adults. To go through life you have to give control to other people, thatís how we exists. Unless you want to be a recluse in the middle of Montana, itís so much more enjoyable to know how to give control.
Kendra: A lot of times itís to your own benefit, especially when you give it to God.
Aaron: Just like the elderly man, he lived what would be considered a successful life but never really had much fun. It was because he couldnít stand anybody else, he didnít like people. His wife loves him, but he doesnít like people and itís because they donít get him. The reason they donít get him is because heís so offensive to be around, because heís that 3-year-old who says, ďNo!Ē What a valuable lesson as a parent of a 2-year-old that this is a long time lesson, to have friends. This elderly gentleman, I empathize with him, I know how he feels, so itís so important to be able to exist in a family environment or work environment or in-law environment. I go over to my in-laws and itís different and it should be. If I was with them, and didnít know how to control my strong-willed nature, Iíd start telling everybody what to do. And thatís no fun. If you, as a parent, think itís a hard thing to deal with, weíre talking about a lifetime. The hope is that a strong-willed child can funnel all those manipulative energy and thought and depth into something for Christ or the good of humanity.
Kendra: Interestingly, Aaronís dad was a strong-willed child, which is how we were successful Ė he understood. He wanted Aaron to reach for the heights of what God had for him, so he sent him to school knowing it was going to be a challenge because he knew what it felt like. And heís just as passionate as Aaron.
Aaron: Very much.
Kendra: And he knew that with Aaron the skyís the limit. He didnít want him to be limited because he didnít understand how to communicate with someone because he had to be right. Part of it is learning out of his pain, thinking he could have done something that he never tried to do. His parents did a pretty good job, but he still know thereís a song in him that heís going to discover someday, and he wanted Aaron to find his while young. Thereís a lot of passion that wrote this book. My husband said that he was so glad God gave me the ability to write, so that we could get this to the general public. We say that Iím the voice, Johnís the brains, and Aaronís the heart of the book.
CBP: Thank you for this wonderful resource to parents who want their strong-willed child to become responsible, loving, friendly adults.