Honestly, I know there are people in my life who probably think they are a better mom than me because they have more rules, more structure…more control.
I wish I didn’t care what other people thought about me or my mothering – but I do. Mostly, I think, because I care so much about being a mom. It can be difficult to reconcile just how much you care about something with other people’s criticism of how you handle the thing you love. I’ve learned to see it for what it is, though – a reflection of where other people are at and not a true reflection of me. Because what is true about me, motherhood, and how I view control, is that I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons that have left me a little beaten up at times, but ultimately – a whole lot freer. Because we cannot cling to control and freedom at the same time.
Eventually, I think most people come to the same, hard-earned conclusion that I’ve been taught time and time again: that control is an illusion, and a function of fear.
I think this is an important distinction to make when we are talking about the subject of control, because it can be very easy to moralize our controlling ways. We call it “being responsible” and before we know it, we can look down at others who are going about their life in ways that we view as unresponsible and shake our heads and feel good knowing that we are doing a better job. Us, with our control and order and certainty.
Perhaps it’s a misguided understanding of responsibility that gets us in trouble. We humans love, love, love to be overly responsible for things that are not ours to manage. We love to try and solve problems that are not ours to solve.
We do this, I think, because solving problems, having solutions, and “knowing” answers gives us a sense of security. It lulls us into a false but very real belief that we can have more control over this life than we really do.
But ultimately, it leads to micromanaging – both our own life and the lives of those around us. As a wife and a mom, two of my easiest targets for this controlling mindset are my husband and my kids. I have so many specific ways I think my husband should think, act, and believe that I can’t learn from and enjoy the ways he actually thinks, acts, and believes. And with my kids – oh my kids – it’s so incredibly easy to assume responsible for things that frankly, aren’t mine to carry. It is not my responsibility to make my kids into good people. I literally do not have that ability. I can not force them to choose well. I can not force them to live a life that I think is best. And perhaps even most importantly, even the idea of what is “best” for my kids is ultimately formed by my limited viewpoint that prefers black and white facts to gray unknowns.
All any of us can do in this life, as individuals, as partners, and as parents, is to know who we are, give shape to our experience, and release our attachment to outcomes.
All of this is not to say we don’t parent. All of this is not to say we don’t have rules or boundaries or a developed and clearly communicated sense of right and wrong. Especially as parents, we all want to pass down to our children the lessons and wisdom and beliefs that we’ve learned and that have given our lives shape and meaning. But the offering up of these lessons is where our responsibility ends. We can not force them to accept it. We can not control the outcomes of who our kids are and what they will do with the information we give them.
I find this both terrifying and wonderfully freeing. It’s our job to parent, not control. (Say it with me: It’s our job to parent, not control.) Parent comes from the latin roots meaning, “to bring forth.” We bring forth. We catch. We release.
Fortunately for me (or unfortunately depending on what day you ask me), I was gifted a baby boy eight years ago who has taught me this lesson every. single. day. of his life.
For the record, I think being a parent is the hardest job on the planet. It’s scary. And I think it is is so, so easy to respond to this very real terror by doubling down on control. We buy into the false belief that more rules, more boundaries, and more control will diminish our chances of failure, will diminish our fear, will diminish the odds that our worst nightmares will come true.
There are some kids who fall in line with their parents’ controlling ways. There are some kids who find comfort in the boundaries. Some kids who are naturally born yes-men, people pleasers, and rule followers. At least for a time. And then there are other kids. Kids like my first born, who from day one, couldn’t seem to follow the script.
Theo is practical enough to question the objectivity of every instruction you give him. He has an iron strong will. And he has an imagination wild enough to dream up ideas and behavior you couldn’t even begin to think to warn him against in advance.
From the moment I went into labor with this kid way-too-early eight years ago, I’ve been getting a daily, almost minute by minute lesson in how to let go of control, how to face my fears, and how to rest in faith.
I’ve accepted the things I can’t control. It’s as simple as that. To some, this will look and sound cavalier. Reckless, even. That is ok. I can’t not control you opinion of me, either. And I’m learning to have grace for those who still find comfort in their belief that right actions, right rules, and enough control will help them avoid the hard things of this life. It is an incredibly painful and rude awakening when you face the loss of these false beliefs. And so, while I wish we could all be at the same point on this journey together, so we could face this difficult subject with less judgement, criticism, and shame, I know that I am not responsible for anyone’s journey but my own.
Faith looks scary because it is. Taking our hands off the steering wheel looks reckless because when we face the wreckage in our lives, others might point to us to blame. As if any human on this earth has the power to navigate this life pain free. Damage free. Shifting our eyes from focusing on how to control our life to how to shape our life feels confusing at first, because it feels like a contradiction. And perhaps it is, a bit. A perspective of control determines outcomes and believes we are accountable for those outcomes, while a perspective of offering shape hopes, and knows we are not the author or the finisher of our hope.
Eight years ago, my wild, willful little preemie was born in an experience that I can only describe as completely out of my physical control. All labor is. But this one took us by SUCH surprise. Our first baby. My first pregnancy. My first labor. It all happened so quickly. So unexpectedly. The outcome was completely beyond my control.
I vividly remember feeling this total body overwhelm at one point, shortly before Theo was born. I was riding the waves of labor and not really “thinking.” Labor is one of the most embodied experiences you can have. It is literal presence. At one point, a nurse had to put a monitor on me to listen to Theo’s heart beat, and there it was. In the midst of an experience that felt totally wild and reckless and out of control, there what his heartbeat. Steady as a drum. Strong. Sure. Certain.
Theo came into this world a few short days before Easter. I’ve never thought about it like this before, but Theo’s birth was a death of sorts for me. A putting to death of my idea of how things were to be. Of how things were supposed to be. Of what was right and good. Of my idea of what I wanted and needed. Of my sense of control.
Those things started to die the moment my water broke much to early in a pregnancy that I thought was all about my plans, my life, and what I wanted. And those things have continued to die every single day since. But every year, shortly after my little miracle baby’s birthday, comes Easter. As sure as the rising sun. As sure as the heartbeat of a firstborn son. As sure as a rising savior, who surrendered all control for something so. much. greater.
It is for freedom that we have been set free. Walk in freedom, my friends. Walk in freedom.