Recently on my From Surviving to Thriving at Home parent weekly webinar I invited Psychotherapist Cathy Lumsden on as my special guest. We started to discuss control in the context of parenting and relationships.
The need to control causes problems in relationships. I mean, who wants to be controlled? Imagine your partner trying to control you? How does that feel? Why do we feel control in parenting is a good idea? Whenever someone seeks to control another person there will be conflicts and power struggles that damage both parties in the end.
I didn’t realize how controlling I was until I had kids. When I would give them an instruction only to have it ignored through me through the flippin’ roof! Don’t get me wrong, I would request calmly with great kindness nine times, but the tenth time I was being ignored sent me spiralling downwards into mom-zila. When I wasn’t listened to I would up the ante. I would raise my voice, threaten to take away allowance, toys, screens, ANYTHING that would make me feel like I had some kind of control again.
I’m not sure where control became a central ideal in parenting today. It doesn’t build trust and certainly doesn’t build connection. Compliant children and partners begin doing whatever we want just to keep the peace. Oppositional, non conformists give us a run for our money causing greater disregulation and stress.
In my book, Bring Them Closer, I describe a time when my son yelled out a colourful word out of anger towards his brother in a park filled with 2 year olds. Every mother gasped – including me. The mother’s glares went from my son directly to me. They wanted to be avenged. They watched very closely what I would do next. I was just about to give my son a piece of my mind (to appease these angry moms) until I saw his eyes filled with humiliation. He realized what he had done. I went up to him, told him we all make mistakes, grabbed him by the hand and began to walk out of the park. One of the mom’s outraged with my response yelled out to me, “Why don’t you control your kid!”
I replied back, “I don’t control anyone except myself.” (which didn’t go over well by the way)
Our strange obsession with control
Unknown territory makes me want to have control. It’s a defence mechanism and a coping strategy that we think works but it doesn’t. When my son screamed his profanity in the park out of anger I instantly wanted to do everything I could to control the situation. When my kids don’t listen I want to do whatever it takes to be sure I’m heard and listened to. What I’m trying to do is grasp at something I can hold on to.
If you want to feel in control at all times, don’t engage in any relationships and certainly do NOT become a parent.
Jokes aside, to be human is to want to have a grip on our environments, especially if we grew up in a chaotic environment. Cathy gave some great tips I have listed here to help us lose our grip on control so we can replace it with boundaries.
Here are 3 tips Cathy gives to let go of control to gain so much more. You can find more on Cathy here
Let go of the “What if’s?”
Worry makes us want to control. “What if’s” make us want to grasp onto things. “What if’s” such as,
What if my child becomes one of those adults who still play video games in their parents basement for LIFE?!
What if I can’t find employment?
What if I go to the grocery store and my children begin to fight?
What if my son blurts out another horrible word at the next park we go to?
Cathy suggests asking yourself, “What if NOT?”
For every “what if” there is always the possibility it won’t happen. To ease your mind have a “What then” plan ready.
Instead of getting caught up on what if your child is living in your basement as an adult jobless playing a video game, think of “What then?” What will YOU do?
For example, “I will lock our fridge, get them their own fridge and make them pay for their own food (meaning they would need to get a job)
Instead of worrying about a job, perhaps your “What then” plan is to ask people you know to let you know when they know of jobs that come up.
Instead of worrying about fights between siblings at the grocery store have a “What then” plan in place BEFORE the grocery store. What will YOU do to first set your kids up for success at the store and what will you do if things get out of hand?
If you lose your temper or yell: what’s your then what plan? Write it out. These are boundaries. When we learn to have healthy boundaries we don’t need to use control.
Give yourself a worry time
Give yourself a time each day to write down all your worries. Doing this allows us to name emotions we have in chaos and organizes them in our minds. It also allows us to not bury the emotions we are feeling only to explode later. Getting these thoughts down on paper slows down our thought process and helps us make sense of our story.
Making sense of our story is important not only for our own emotional regulation but to help us let go of seeking to control others. Many times the motivation for control comes from feeling out of control of ourselves. Turns out it has very little to do with anyone else. I didn’t realize my own inner storm affected the environment I was creating in my home for my kids.
We often ignore our story and our emotions without realizing how much this affects us and then onto our children.
Our thoughts create our feelings.
Our belief systems are learned.
Our limiting beliefs create negative self talk.
The minds job is to think thoughts but we don’t have to believe them.
The next day, look at what you wrote for your worry time the next day and see how believable those worries really are. Worry is a huge contributor to the need for control. As soon as we put worry in its place, we lose the need to control as well.
Tell yourself all the things you wish you would have heard as a kid
Tell yourself all the things you wish you would have heard as a kid – even if you don’t believe them. We are often looking for others to give this to us. This may be one of the bravest exercises you will ever do because this is where you really confront the stories you tell yourself in your mind. Many of these stories are rooted in shame.
Shame tells me “I am bad”. It’s the deep rooted feeling that something is wrong with me. That story gets louder in our heads the more we ignore the shameful emotions attached and the more we hide from others.
When we come into the light to be seen and known by others and share our stories, shame loses its power. The first person we need to be known by is ourselves.
I’ll never forget the day I decided I was going to start speaking over myself that I was brave every day. Did I really think that? No. Did I believe it? Not at all, but I kept saying “I am brave. I can do hard things.” These statements have now become a part of me and I believe it when I say it.
My mantra I say daily now is:
I am brave. I show up when its hard, I love without walls, I forgive when it hurts, I rise through the storm. The more I say and believe these things, the more shame’s chains break around me and the less I need to control others.
Try saying this with me:
I am brave
I show up when its hard
I love without walls
I forgive when it hurts
I rise through the storm
I have created a place where you can journey with others in a safe community along with having access to counselling and coaching. It’s called the Brave Parent Institute. I’ve created the place I wish I would have had. Imagine counselling, coaching, community, and health all in one place? That’s what the Brave Parent Institute is. Right now we know parents need this more than ever so we are offering the first 25 families a rate of only $25/month!
Don’t do this alone. Find out more here.