We are rapidly approaching the terrible twos – and I suspect this is just a taster of things to come. Food and toys are thrown around. There’s kicking and screaming.

But why can’t I spin her around wildly? I really really want to.

The stones are more interesting than going to a cafe for lunch.
No, I don’t need to eat actually.

How has no one else noticed? The world is ending!

I suspect his teeth are bothering him. I found one more molar coming through on the bottom today. Poor kid. But this is not all teething-related.

At 22 months old, he has a good handle on the word ‘no’ and can wield his will with the best of them. He’ll do battle over anything, refusing food he usually loves and activities he, at other times, begs for.

It’s one of those many qualities that make toddler-hood difficult but arm you well for life. I want my kids to have strong wills, to stick to their guns, to stand up for themselves… of course. I guess they start learning how and practicing it young.

But there’s a difference between having the strength to stand up for what you believe in and being stubborn. Perhaps its semantic, but regardless of word choice I can think of two distinct types of willfullness.

– being willful for the sake of winning

– being willful for the sake of integrity

The first is about ego and we all do it, of course, but a little self-knowledge and maturity help here… the truly wise beat this habit, I guess, but most of us mere humans do battle with it.

In theory, my identity doesn’t hang in the balance every time I discover that something I once thought or believed is in fact wrong. Some beliefs I hold tighter than others, of course, but I hope I can find the grace to admit when I’m wrong. This is hardest, I suspect, when the person proving me wrong is my spouse, sibling, parent or (give it a few months) child.

The freedom to change my mind, to admit I am wrong, to learn and grow and change… these are essential for survival.

The other kind of willfulness is also a vital survival tactic. Without some of this type of willfulness a person will be walked all over. They’ll buy every gimick, sign up for every weight-loss program and magazine subscription, own every self-help book and constantly question whether or not they’re doing things ‘right’ – as if there is just one way to live ‘correctly’.

Every salesperson in the world will take advantage of a person with no will of their own, and whether they mean to or not, so will most of their friends and family.

This kind of willfulness is also a kind of determination. This is the kind of willfulness that I need in order to stick at writing novels, to stick with learning french, to hold onto my faith when I am, once again, confronted by its complexities.

The trick is, I suppose, distinguishing between the two. At a given moment it’s difficult to know – is Louis refusing something because he genuinely doesn’t want it, or because he just wants to beat me? Or both? Am I arguing with my husband over something really important, or do I just want to win? It’s hard to be honest with myself, especially in the moment. And later, if I discover I was in the wrong, then there’s the fun of apologising…

By sheer force of my will I can’t be right all the time. By sheer force of my will I can’t know, in that moment, whether or not I’m fighting a noble battle, or defending my ego.

Parenting seems to me a constant test of will. Sometimes I’m just so tired I think, there’s no way I can get up right now. But then Elena cries or Louis hurts himself, and what do you know? I can get up. I do get up. I drink too much coffee and spend too much time staring blankly at one screen or another, and not enough time exercising, but I suppose I’m busy using up the strength of my will on the really important stuff – I’m being a mum, a writer, a friend and lover, and keeping the house just clean and tidy enough that it’s not a health and safety hazard. Priorities eh?