If I ask 100 people about their thoughts on control, 99.5 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 consistent 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 else or something else (ha) then it is to control your own thoughts, words and actions and to a certain extent, I agree. 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, is that we can’t control ANYTHING beyond our own thoughts, words and actions.
Now 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.
1. Subtle Control – 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 her voice and as the voice goes, so does the mental muscle to navigate her 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 lives, while their parents make decisions for them.
2. Overt Control – Overt control can best be described as the bossy, dictatorial, “because 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 parents 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 about controlling others from the most important and influential people in their life. Is it any wonder that eventually, these kids begin to assert their own kind of control over their parents? But the other problem, and one far more concerning to me as a parent, is the fracture it creates between parent and child. In an overtly controlling dynamic, constant jockeying for position replaces other, healthier ways of connecting.
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 pausing long enough to “THINK” about what it is she is going to say next and if it will enhance or interfere with the relationship with her child. Teach yourself to pause and to change what you are thinking. Learn to spin the thought on it’s 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 what thoughts best support a healthy relationship with your child 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.
2. Imagine actions that are kind, patient, intentional, supportive, forgiving, loving, kind and understanding. As your thinking and speaking shifts from random, off the cuff comments to thoughtful, intentional responses, your actions will follow. Remember, your body works for your thoughts. 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.