So you think you're in control?
If you are at all like me, you like to have things in your life at least moderately under some degree of control, and that includes raising your children.
When your children are babies it is easy to feel like you have control. You can get them fed and off to sleep on something that looks like a schedule you created. As they become preschoolers, you can tell them what is okay and not okay to do, and force some degree of compliance with these rules by the punishments you administer.
You are the parent and you are in control until you aren't. For a couple weeks your baby, who has been going to bed ritually at 7:30 every night, does not fall asleep until after 11 pm. Your normally compliant toddler begins sneaking out of the house when he is supposed to be napping. Your 4-year-old refuses to wear the clothes you have picked out for her for Thanksgiving at Grandma's and has a screaming fit until you give in and let her wear the pick plaid shirt with the yellow pants. It is in these moments that you get a glimpse of what parenting is really about-a wild ride where ultimately the only person you can control is you.
I have often felt that parents who are the lucky recipients of babies with colic get the best view of parenting right from the beginning, as most everything feels totally out of control from the start. (For those of you living through this right now you can gloat a little here as you now know that you have a clear advantage on the rest of us!) The dirty little secret about parenting is that you can encourage, guide, cajole, persuade, guilt, and support your children, but you cannot control them. They are human beings with minds, hearts, and emotions of their own. And this, my friends, is what makes parenting so maddening and so difficult.
You can provide them with all the support, guidance, love and discipline you know how to and then, particularly as they reach the teen and young adult years (and much earlier for some), you have to stand back and let go of the control.
Even as you look into the eyes of your infant you know this day is coming. It makes itself known in small ways throughout the years before it shows up full force. Your 9-month-old fights sleep for hours at a time. Your toddler starts saying "no" in a voice that sounds like it came straight out of the Chucky movies. Your preschooler defiantly puts her hands on her hips and tells you she "does not want to." Your school-age child starts to have a "smart aleck" mouth and say things that you swore your angel would never say. Your middle school child screams that he hates you as he stomps out of the room.
And suddenly there you are, having raised a person a living and breathing and thinking person. A person who will make mistakes and who will not necessarily be or do what you think they should be or do. We know from research that the more controlling a parent is, the more likely the child is to get into trouble as he grows. We also know that parents who set rules (but know when to step away and let their child make mistakes, while still supporting them) end up having the most successful children.
The more you try to control a human being, the more they fight the control. (This also applies to your relationship with your significant other, by the way.) I can't tell you how many times I have heard parents of teens and adult children wondering aloud when they lost control. I would tell them to rest easy, they haven't lost it, they never really had it. In the end you can't control a human that has her own ideas, her own emotions and her own views of the world-and how she fits in it. Yet that very thing-people who have their own views, their own ideas and their own emotions-is exactly what we want to raise our children to be.
Therein lies the paradox of parenting. We want control over the things we are raising to not be controlled. But for those of you out there who still feel the need to have some control in your lives, take heart. There are a number of definitions that come up when you enter the word control in a thesaurus. Some of these, including "be in charge of," "have power over," "be in command of," and "manipulate," may be the phrases you most associate with the word control, but they definitely don't apply to good parenting. However, another set of words that come up including "monitor," "influence" and "manage" do apply to good parenting.
Richard Bach once said, "Children are not our property, and they are not ours to control any more than we were our parents' property or theirs to control." In the end, all you can control are your own reactions and if you have raised your children well, this should be enough.