I tried reverse psychology in her younger years. She would ask for my opinion and if I said one thing, she'd do the opposite. I learned early on to suggest the opposite of what I wanted her to do. Some of the examples were ridiculously simple.
"Should I wear the pink or the blue top?"
"Oh, by all means wear the pink."
Five minutes later she'd be sporting the blue.
When she was little, we'd have what we called Family Altar each evening. We'd bought a book of Bible stories and every night read a different story. There were questions at the end. Sarah never answered one, while her brother, twenty months older, wriggled with excitement. He knew the answers to every question.
All through her school years, Sarah disrupted. something. When she entered first grade, she was caught writing love in huge letters on a school wall. She could not understand why the teacher was upset.
"But love is a good word," she argued.
No matter what the rule might be, she fought it. We tried different forms of discipline, thinking something would work. I had treated all my children the same, but my methods did not work for Sarah. I needed some answers.
Out of desperation we attended a group therapy led by Margaret, a former teacher and Christian counselor. Tears flooded my eyes as I listened while others talked about their difficulties with discipline. It was comforting to know I wasn't the only one with an obstinate child. Finally, after eleven years of constant chaos, we'd found an answer to our prayers. I went home fortified for the week to come.
"When you need to set down a rule, preface it with this statement: 'I know you are going to be angry about this, so I give you ten minutes to throw a fit.' "
Strange, but when Sarah was given permission to protest, she didn't do it.
Another rule: Since Sarah was the type of child who badgered, she could either wear me down, and she knew it, or I'd be so angry, I'd start yelling.
"Go into a room and go about your business," Margaret suggested, "and when she starts begging, pretend you don't hear. Do not say one word. Mothers tend to preach, and kids just tune you out."
This rule worked as well.
Then we moved. With my older children raised, it was just Sarah and me in new surroundings. She began high school and thrived on her newfound popularity in a smaller school.
She begged, cried, and insisted, but I continued to say no.
Finally, she grabbed her jacket and purse and started off up the road toward the main highway. She was going to go in spite of what I said.
I grabbed the keys and started after her in the car. She'd already reached the highway when I got there.
"Get in the car, Sarah."
"No!" She marched on, head held high.
"Get in the car."
She continued to defy me, walking on in the direction of the school. I held the car at eight miles an hour, just fast enough to stay with her. "Get in the car," I repeated several times. She continued to say no.
Gripping the steering wheel, I almost gave in, but somehow I stayed the course, my mind and heart knowing I could not relent.
Finally, she yanked the car door open, plopped inside, and said, "Okay. I won't go, but I hate you. I hate you so much!"
That's fine, I wanted to say, but remembering Margaret's words, I said nothing, but drove back home.
The entire episode had lasted all of ten minutes. She was home. Safe. She refused to come into the house, but sat outside next to the fire pit, while I was inside reading a book.
That incident was the turning point in our tumultuous relationship.
Sarah is now in her twenties, and we enjoy doing things together. One day while we were shopping, she asked, "Do you remember that time you wouldn't let me go to the football game?"
"That was the day I knew you loved me."
"Yes. When I was growing up, I thought you favored Matt because he never got punished." She reached over and took my hand. "I realize now that he never argued and did what he was told. I was the rebel, wasn't I?"
"Yes, you were."
"It made me think about a lot of things that night."
I hugged her. "I'm so happy to hear you say that."
This revelation came when Sarah was twenty-five. With God's help, I had done the best job I could, but it was eleven years before I knew it had all been worth it.
I wondered later about how God must feel when his children don't listen, don't obey. He hangs in there with us anyway. His love and coaxing never stops. He doesn't give up, nor can we mothers give up on our children. The task was rough, but it was worth every tear, every prayer, every hope I had.