If I ask 100 people about their thoughts on control, 99.5 of them will whisper “I am a control freak”, as if this is a bad thing. Personally, I embrace and celebrate my “control freakish” nature. Why? Because the truth is, being a control freak is not the problem.
The problem comes from trying to control the external world instead of developing control of your internal world, which really means – demonstrating your own self-control.
Of those same 100 people, 99.5 of them will readily admit that they spend the majority of their time trying to control everything outside of themselves. Why? Because it’s easier to try and control someone or something else then it is to control your own thoughts, words and actions.
I agree that it’s easier to “try” and control other people and situations than it is to develop the discipline necessary to control yourself. But the truth is, and we all know it, we can’t control ANYTHING beyond our own thoughts, words and actions. This includes your children.
When we think about the many ways, we well-meaning parents, try and control our kids, it’s important that we also look at the consequences of our decision to try and control them.
Subtle control can best be described as a friendly dictate from a well-meaning parent. You know… a parent who has their child’s best interest in mind. A parent who only wants their kids to experience the brighter side of life. A parent who KNOWS that if the child would just do what they say, the way they say to do, the child will most certainly turn out to be a happy, well adjusted, never-sent-to-the-principal’s-office kind of kid.
But alas, the child who is subjected to subtle control soon loses their voice and as the voice goes, so does the mental muscle to navigate their way through the world with any sense of confidence and enthusiasm.
In other words, we create kids who will follow along with little resistance but who in essence are sitting on the sidelines of their life, while their parents do it for them.
Overt control can best be described as the bossy, dictatorial, I-said-so kind of control. These parents don’t care to disguise their decision to control their kids and their kids’ lives. And surprisingly enough, their motivation to control is much like the subtle parent’s reasons. To ensure the kids make few or no mistakes, cruise through life with ease, and make their parents’ lives as easy as possible.
There are some inherent problems in this kind of parenting, not the least of which is that the kids begin to “push back” under all this heavy handed controlling. They quickly learn that controlling other people is a primary goal in life. After all, they are learning from the most important people in their life. Is it any wonder the kids begin to assert their own kind of control of their parents? But the other problem, and one far more concerning to me as a parent, is the fracture it leads to between parent and child.
In an overtly controlling dynamic, constant jockeying for position replaces other, healthier ways of connecting.
Practicing the Art of Self Control
If you wish to model for your children the benefit of developing and maintaining self-control, start with these simple exercises:
1. Start paying attention to what you are thinking. Seriously. So often, a parent’s mouth will start moving before they have paused long enough to “THINK” about what it is they are going to say next and if it will enhance or interfere with the relationship they have with their child.
2. Teach yourself to pause and to change what you are thinking. Learn to spin the thought on its axis until you have sniffed out any desire you might have to control the wee little one in front of you. As you begin to develop mental muscle, your ability to actually decide on your thoughts will become easier and easier. And if we are to believe that what comes out of our mouths is based on what we are thinking, then controlling the words we use will be infinitely easier. The words we choose will be in line with our thinking and our thinking is to demonstrate self-control and enhance the relationship with our child. Fabulous.
3. Remember, your body works for your thoughts. As your thinking and speaking shifts from directing and reactive to thoughtful and intentional responses, your actions will follow. Imagine actions that are kind, patient, intentional, loving, and forgiving. Picture yourself influencing your child’s life from this perspective and you can quickly see the distinct advantages of practicing self-control rather than wasting time and energy trying to control the external world.
When we look our controlling selves in the mirror, we see parents who want the best for our kids. We want to help, assist, teach, provide and give them the lessons that they need for success. But when we break down the reason for the control, it comes back to us wanting to control the things (and people) in our external world to make our lives easier. If we really wanted what was best for our kids, we’d let them learn, try, take risks, fail and grow into their best selves without us dictating the details.
They’ve got this – so long as we hand over the…. Yup, control.