Before having children you were in control of your life, responsible for yourself and doing what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it.
Some days you can’t even shower. And getting out the door on time is nearly impossible.
When you’re at the mercy of the emotions and needs of babies and small children, it can feel like you’ve lost all control. This can be very unsettling. And for some mums, it means that they fight even harder to regain a sense of control.
Do you ever find yourself doing any of these things?
• Organising everyone and everything
• Needing to be involved in everything
• Closely ‘overseeing’ things and providing ‘helpful suggestions’ along the way
• Wanting everyone to do things your way
• Making decisions for others, even though they’re capable of making them themselves
• Doing things yourself rather than risking someone else not doing it properly.
These are indications that you’re trying to control things.
You might feel very upset that your child will only wear sneakers with her best dress or that your husband forgot to give your son his snack at the ‘right’ time.
You feel incredibly frustrated, anxious or angry when things don’t go the way you want them to, when plans change or distractions arise.
You may also find it hard to have no plan or agenda, and just go with the flow.
Is this you?
You’re certainly not alone.
Why do we want to control things?
Lovely mum, it’s Fear.
My husband often reminds me that I can’t prevent everything bad from happening (don’t you hate it when they can read your mind!).
When something goes wrong, I have analyse the life out of it to see what I can do differently next time. The desire to learn and grow isn’t a bad thing. It’s the burning need to always prevent bad things from happening that’s unhealthy, because that is impossible.
We try to control things because we’re fearful of what might happen if we don’t and fearful of trusting others.
A need to control suggests that we have predetermined what the best outcome is, and the best path to get there. But in reality, we have a limited view of what the outcome could possibly be and we don’t necessarily know the best one.
I’ve often justified my need for control as gaining peace of mind, making sure everyone’s happy and well cared for, and as a desire to set and achieve goals.
You know what?
We can still have those things without a deep unhelpful need for control.
Letting go of control means having a desired outcome and path, but being open to other ideas, and ways of getting there.
What’s the problem with controlling things?
Control is a contradiction.
I might feel at ease when I’m in control, but if I really think about it, that’s only when things are going well.
When you’re overly controlling, it actually puts you on a fast track to exhaustion, stress and resentment (because you’re working so much harder than everyone else). In fact, control is often one of the things that underpins addictions, depression, anxiety and anger issues.
When you control your children (or anyone else really), they don’t get a chance to learn, contribute and be themselves. And it may have an adverse effect on your connection as they grow to resent your approach. If you try to control your partner, it’s likely to end up with him feeling emasculated, disrespected and probably like you think he’s incompetent.
And life, well, life cannot be controlled.
This is one of my own biggest lessons. When I was in my twenties, I had what I thought was a great plan for my life, and despite my efforts, I couldn’t control everything to achieve my desired outcome (a story for another time). This isn’t a sad story though because learning to let go and trust my intuition, led me to an even better life than I could have imagined.
What happens when you let go of control?
By letting go of the need to control things, you will:
• Allow things to develop more smoothly
• Feel more at ease
• Free yourself from so many worries, stress and resentment
• Enhance your relationships with others, including your children and partner
• Learn and experience pleasant surprises in life
• Achieve, by doing less
• Have more energy and time to dedicate to the things that matter
• Learn how to trust better
• Let your kids, partner and others contribute learn and shine in their own right.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Let go of control in two key areas
We need to let go of control in two key areas:
1. Things that you don’t actually need to control
These are the things that others are capable of doing, and that don’t need your involvement. There are no catastrophic consequences for you not being in control and they don’t have to be done your way.
For example, your children can choose their own casual clothes, your partner can parent without your supervision, your children can try to do some things themselves, even if the outcome isn’t quite up to your standard.
Last year, before Christmas, my son and I were making a snowflake out of paddle pop sticks and gluing mini pom poms, stars and buttons on for decorations. I remember he wanted to add a plastic eye and I didn’t let him because ‘snowflakes don’t have eyes’.
Ahhhh, my input wasn’t needed there.
2. Things that you really can’t control.
As mums, it’s important to focus our limited time, energy and attention on things that we can actually control. Then, we can let go of the need to control the rest.
For example, you can control the types of food you offer your children, how you role model a balanced diet and how you encourage them to eat well, but you can’t control how much and what they eat from that selection.
You can control when and how well you clean your house, your own standards of cleanliness and the boundaries you set for your children, but you can’t prevent spills and accidents and kids needing to be at least a bit messy while they’re ‘being kids’.
In his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Steven Covey explains that when you try to control the things that you cannot influence, you end up being consumed by other people’s weaknesses and problems in your environment. You go into victim mode and look to blame others.
But when you focus on the things that you can and should control, your energy is positive and over time you actually expand your influence.
The reality of control
So, let’s make this really simple – the reality is that the ONLY thing you can control is YOU. Your behaviours, your reactions, your attitudes, your thinking. And even this takes a lot of practice and effort!
You can’t control your children (although you do have a lot of influence), your partner, other people in your life or circumstances and events that happen around you. You can’t control people’s behaviour, emotions, decisions or how they respond to you.
How to let go
Breaking a long-standing habit of needing control takes persistence and commitment. Here are some things that will help:
1. Spend 10 mins reflecting and writing down the things that you are currently trying to control, that you don’t need to control or that you can’t control. Make a commitment to yourself to let go of controlling these things.
2. When you notice that you’re trying to control something, ask yourself:
a. What are you scared will happen if you don’t have control?
b. Is your fear valid and realistic?
c. What is the worst that could happen if you let go?
3. Break the thought pattern that goes with the need to control and replace the negative thoughts with positive ones.
For example, if you’re trying to let your daughter do something for herself without interfering, instead of thinking ‘she’s going to do it wrong again, and I’ll just have to fix it’, think ‘It’s important that I support her learning and with practice she’ll get it right’.
4. Live in the present and be open to opportunities, different ideas and perspectives. See them as learning.
5. Make a commitment to change your thinking and use affirmations to help reset your thoughts. Use them in the moment when you’re trying to let go, or regularly throughout your day. For example:
- I trust that things will work out
- I am flexible and open to new perspectives
- It’s ok for others to approach things differently to me
- I trust people to do their best
- I am still a great mum when I let go of control.
You can download and print these affirmations (with a few extras) here.
Ok lovely, your action plan involves selecting 1- 2 things from the suggestions above, to implement this week. What’s it going to be?
As always, I’d love to hear how this post has helped you, so either leave a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.