If you haven't read the book "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand, you may have seen the movie or heard the buzz surrounding Angelina Jolie's movie adaptation. The story chronicles the life of Olympian and World War II prisoner of war Louis Zamperini.
It's an emotionally draining, heart-wrenching and inspirational tale of a man that overcame seemingly impossible odds. And it forever changed how I look at my daughter.
Parenting books have many labels for a child like mine - spirited, difficult or high-maintenance. Perhaps, even, unbreakable. The children are strong-willed, stubborn and exhausting for parents.
When my daughter was three, we had a four-hour stand-off over her saying the two little words "I'm sorry." She refused to back down for four hours. Despite timeouts, a spanking and the loss of her favorite stuffed animals, she would not budge. It was maddening. I clearly remember saying to my husband, "We have to break her before she breaks us."
As a child, Zamperini was constantly in trouble. Obstinate and mischievous, he was always at odds with the authorities, his parents included. I can only imagine the frustration his parents felt, immigrants in a new country, trying to provide for their family, with a son that was continually making trouble. I feel the same exhaustion as I struggle daily with my own daughter's hard-headedness.
But it was as I poured through the 500-pages detailing his life that the lightbulb came on. The obstinate, stubborn, strong-willed character that got him into so much trouble as a child was the exact same character that drove him to survive 47 days lost at sea and two years being tortured in a POW camp. If he had been broken as a kid, would he have given up in that raft? Would his captivity have crushed him?
My eyes were opened as I closed the book. Breaking my daughter's strong will should never be my goal. Rather, like Zamperini's brother did for him, I need to help her harness that tenacity and focus it. The leaders and innovators we remember are the ones that never took "no" for an answer. The survivors we honor are the ones that never gave in and succumbed.
I don't know what the future holds for my little girl. Her character is God-given. She may need her dogged determination to create something amazing, or she may need it to overcome something horrific. In either case, it would be a huge disservice to take that away from her. Instead, I need to help her refine and hone her character. Enrich that gritty spirit, not weaken it.
Obviously, my recommendation is for everyone to read Hillenbrand's book. Besides the fascinating details of a life lived like none other, and forgiveness that transcends understanding, perhaps it will affect you the same way it did me if you are parenting a strong-willed child. Embrace what makes your child unique, help them appreciate and channel the strengths that it brings, then let them loose. We all might be amazed with what the results will be.
Former North Attleboro resident Melissa Introne is the mother of three children, who consistently challenge her preconceived notions of motherhood. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.