When you become a parent pretty much everything in your life changes in one way or another.
Some of those changes are nice and easy to adjust to, and others take a bit more time to accept. One thing that can be really hard to get used to is not being in control of everything.
If you’re used to doing things your way, at your own pace, all the time it can be incredibly hard to adjust to life with children. I think a lot of us carry on trying to be in control, when really we need to just slow down and let go a bit (a lot) more.
The first thing we need to do is admit that we might be a bit of a parenting control freak.
You might not realise how much you’re clinging to being in control until you stop and take a look around.
Here are some signs that you might be a parenting control freak:
- You don’t like your child playing with playdough or painting because you can’t bear the thought of all the mess they’ll make. The same goes for any kind of sensory or messy play.
- You do things for your child that they could do for themselves, because then you know it’ll be done right.
- You make pretty much all your child’s decisions for them. You pick out their clothes every day and choose which book to read to them at bedtime.
- You use bribes to get them to wear what you want and do what you want, when really it doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things.
- You ‘help’ them with pretty much everything they do, rather than stepping back and letting them do it for themselves. It starts with telling them where the stickers go in their sticker book when they’re toddlers and carries on to hovering over them doing their homework.
- You don’t give them room to make mistakes, to fail, to make messes and to mess up.
- Things around the house have to be done your way, which is clearly the right way! It really winds you up when your partner or children load the dishwasher or hang the washing up because they always do it ‘wrong’.
How many of these things sound familiar to you?
I know quite a few of them ring just a little too true for me. And it’s something I’ve been working on dealing with since Rhys was a baby.
It’s funny because I honestly wouldn’t describe myself as a controlling person, but I suppose I do like to feel in control of things. Maybe being controlling and liking to be in control are two different things.
I’m not a natural leader and I don’t think I dominate others and boss them around. But when things are out of my personal control I definitely feel more anxious and on edge.
I think it’s really important though, to let go of that need for control when it comes to life with our children.
Our job is to equip them with the skills they’ll need to go out in the world and be able to take care of themselves. And that starts will letting them make messes, letting them experiment and make mistakes and do things their own way.
Tom Hodgkinson, author of ‘The idle parent‘ believes that the absolute best thing we can do for our children is to just leave them alone.
“To the busy modern parent, this idea seems counter-intuitive, aren’t we always being told to do more, not less? Well, no. The problem is that we’re putting too much work into parenting, not too little. By over-interfering we are not allowing the child to grow up and learn…we need to retreat. Let them live”
And I think this is advice we should all take on board.
It’s not about being lazy, or absent as parents. It’s about giving our children the space they need to do things for themselves and to learn to think for themselves.
So where do you start? Here are some ideas:
- Let them pick their own clothes. Unless it’s a day where they have to wear something in particular, like school uniform, let them choose what clothes they would like to wear each day. For young children who might make completely inappropriate choices, start by picking out 2 suitable outfits yourself and letting them choose which of those they would like to wear.
- Let them help you out around the house. Just lower your standards a bit and let them make their own beds and put their own toys away. As they get older let them help you clear the table after meals, do some dusting or sweep the floors.
- Accept that they will get hurt. This goes against all our instincts as parents, but I think we need to stop wrapping our children in cotton wool and let them climb trees and graze their knees. Tom agrees with this idea, and believes that it helps to strengthen our children’s ability to deal with pain.
- Keep out of arguments between your children. This one is a real personal choice I think, and is one that I’m not sure I completely agree with. Tom writes that by keeping out of it our children learn the art of negotiation, and I do see his point. But for the moment at least I will still step in when my two are arguing, to stop things escalating and explain to them the options for how to move forward.
- Let them get things wrong. Let them stick the sun sticker at the bottom of the page and colour the sky in green. Give them time when they’re doing a jigsaw puzzle to test out all the wrong pieces before they find the right one that fits. As they get older, let them make mistakes in their homework instead of jumping in and telling them the right answer.
- Accept that your child isn’t you. They won’t necessarily like the same things as you, or have the same natural talents that you have. It’s up to us as parents to get to know the children we’ve been given and to respect their individual choices. Don’t try and tell them how they ‘should’ feel about things and what activities they ‘should’ want to do. Instead take the time to listen to them and to understand how they see the world and how they feel about things.
I think for those of us who like to feel a sense of control in a world that so often seems chaotic and, well, out of control, it can be really hard to let go. Especially when it comes to our children. I think we all just want the best for our families, and it can take some time to realise that ‘the best’ comes as a result of mess and chaos and mistakes.
It might not feel like it at the time, but letting our children learn all the lessons that come from trying and failing and trying again really is the best thing for them.
That’s just a lesson that I’m still learning after 7 years as a parent.
This post has been linked up to KCACOLS linky.