Control. It is such a little word, yet the implications of it are huge. There are things in life we can control and things we can’t. I can control my temper. I can control the air temperature in my house. I can control what I eat and how much I eat. I can’t control the weather. I can’t control the tides. I can’t control my children.
You may read that last sentence and your chin might hit the ground. “What does she mean that she can’t control her children?” “Isn’t that a parent’s job to control her children?” “She isn’t parenting right if she can’t control her children!” “I wouldn’t want to be around her children if she can’t control them.” You might be thinking that my children are running amok, destroying the world around them, with little or no care for anyone but themselves. You’d be wrong.
I can’t control you. I control me. I can control how I react to what you do. I have a very rambunctious 6 year old. He came into the world as a high-needs baby. He needed more of everything, more snuggles, more nursing, more in-arms time, more, more, more – except sleep. He was an aggressive non-sleeper. He was up every hour for months! It was exhausting. No matter what I did, I could not control how he slept. I could control, however, how I reacted to how he slept. I had been asking Lee for help at night, but I never really told him how bad it was. One morning when we got up, I sat him down and told him exactly how far it had gotten. I told him that I was having the thought that if I just threw Carter up against the wall, he’d stop crying. That is when I stopped *asking* for help and flat-out stated that he would help me because I scared myself. From that night on, Lee would take Carter for a 3 hour stretch from about 9 pm – midnight. I would sleep, wonderfully alone, with a white noise machine so I couldn’t hear Carter cry. I told Lee that Carter was never to cry alone. I gave him tools he could use, rocking, skin-to-skin contact, car rides, swaddling, shushing, and anything else I could think of to help Carter. Some evenings were easier on Lee than others. There were times that Lee would get me up before the 3 hours because Carter was just over-the-top inconsolable and Lee knew Carter needed his mommy. No, I couldn’t control Lee and make him keep Carter. But I could control how I reacted to not getting my 3 hours. Just knowing that Lee was trying to give me some time to sleep helped. I couldn’t control Carter back then and I couldn’t control Lee. I could stand up for myself and tell Lee what I needed. Carter didn’t sleep any better but he was spending time with a loving parent and I was getting some much needed rest.
Now Carter is six years old. I still can’t control him. I can guide him. I can teach him. I can’t control him. Carter has quite the temper. Having an explosive temper goes right along with his “moreness.” All of his feelings are more intense than the older two. He loves more, he hates more, he gets mad more. He has no control over himself when he gets mad. I can’t control him when he is mad, but I can supply external control for him to use so that he can stay safe while he rages. Sometimes that looks like me taking him into a separate room and letting him rage on my bed where he won’t be physically attacking his brother or sister. Sometimes it looks like me taking him into that room and restraining him so that he can’t attack me. It is starting to look like us going to the garage together and me holding a punching bag so that he can attack it. It always looks like me helping him regain his own control. He can’t do it on his own and I can’t control it for him. I can give him appropriate tools and outlets for his anger, but I can’t control his anger. I’ve found that I absolutely have to maintain my control over myself. When I react to his anger with anger of my own, his anger always escalates. It is a vicious cycle. The best thing I can do for him is to maintain my own calm and control my reaction to him. I whisper to him that he is ok, that his anger is ok, that we have ways to get the anger out without hurting ourselves or others. When I feel myself losing control, I tell him that I need to not talk to him for a minute. I turn my back and let him rage. I am very slowly teaching him ways to control himself. His “moreness” also means that it is taking him longer than the average child to learn how to control himself. He is improving, but it is a slow process.
When I tell Carter to do something, many times he will choose not to do what he is told. I can’t control him and make him want to obey me. I can walk him through obedience though. I don’t view this as controlling him though. “Carter, it is time to go to school. Turn off the t.v. and put your shoes on.” There are days that he will *not* do what he is told. I could punish him for this. I could let my frustrations and anger that he is defying me control me. I choose to not look at this situation in this way. I see that he needs help transitioning, so I supply help for him. I ask him if he’d like to use the remote to turn the t.v. off or if he’d like me to do it for him. I don’t need to threaten him. I just ask how he prefers the t.v. turning off. If he doesn’t want to put his shoes on, I don’t punish him for that. I offer help. He has two choices: put them on himself, or I will help him. Either way, his shoes will be on his feet. He just gets to choose how they get there. Half the time he will say “Mom, I’m big, I can do it myself.” Half the time he’ll say “Can you help me, please?” We aren’t adversaries in these small battles because I don’t view them as battles. I view them as things that need to be done, I’m the parent, and I can help my child when he has trouble doing things on his own. More and more, as he gets older, I see him choosing to do things on his own. After all, who wants to have their mother doing everything for them all the time?
I don’t control my children. I am teaching them to control themselves. Someday, they’ll move out of my house and I won’t be there. If I spend their first 18 years trying to control them, when they leave, they won’t have the skills to control themselves. If I spend the first 18 years teaching them to control themselves, when they move out, they will be ready to face whatever life throws at them by using their own self-control.