Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Control Continuum

One. Every day I deal with my spirited child. (Thanks, Lindy, for teaching me that term. I so prefer it to strong-willed or headstrong.) Each day we butt heads and many days I lose my temper. Some days he says, "I'm losing my patience with you, Mom." My own mother tells me I'm trying too hard to run his life. "I've had this kind of child," she warns me. "You can't 'break him' of it. And if you try, you will make it worse."

Two. I am trying to teach my historically night owl body to become a lark. Each day is a struggle, but I feel myself changing, both body and spirit.

Three. Having recently been made keenly aware of how much my diet affects my health I am on a mission to drink more water, eat less sugar, and pack my family's diet with leafy greens. Today I ate too many Robin's eggs and didn't have a green smoothie. Tomorrow will be better.

Four. For eight months I have struggled with a weird health problem and have prayed for God to take it away so I can have another baby. Only I haven't prayed with much meekness. Instead, I have acted like this: "Having another baby is a righteous desire. Why won't you heal me so I can?" Finally, I realized what I was doing and changed my paradigm. I let go. I gave it to God. I told Him I would trust him. I felt the weight come off my chest as I loosened my white-knuckle grasp on my family planning and sincerely believed that God could have something better in mind. I don't think it coincidence that I am now, nearly inexplicably, on the mend.

I didn't see how any of these things were connected until reading Jordan's post last week.

And suddenly I realized that each of these things seemingly consuming my life is about control. Some things can be controlled. But other things--no matter how hard we try--cannot be made to bend.

I believe one of our jobs in mortality is to learn how to control our bodies with our minds and spirits. In other words, control our appetites and desires. If I want my body to last, I have to control what I put in it, and what I do with it. Of course I cannot control everything that happens to my body. I cannot control or prevent every incident or illness. That is in another's hands.

I can control when I get up in the morning. And for me, in this chapter of my life, being up earlier than my children is a must. No matter how my body yearns for one more snooze, I must will myself to win.

I feel it my duty to be in control of what my child eats, how much sleep he gets, and the way he treats other people (including me). I won't tolerate meanness or disrespect. But sometimes I try to control more than that. And I forget that he has an innate personality and free will. And how dare I try to control and 'break' that boisterous, adventurous, unconquerable spirit?! No, that is not mine to control. Instead, it is my job to teach him how to be in control of it. And I can (and must!) control my temper.

Like I said, I am physically on the mend. But much more important has been the emotional healing that has come as I have been reminded once again that we cannot be in control of all things. Sometimes all we can do is 'show up.' We do all we can, and then we just have to let go.


Rachael said...

Anne, I'd love to hear what strategies you've developed to teach Blaine how to control himself (love the way you put that!) My oldest is almost five and we are constantly butting heads--I felt so despairing about it all this weekend and made a goal to find some way, some how, to make it so every day isn't a power struggle. I would really LOVE any tips you might be willing to share!

No Big Dill said...

This post came to mind when I read your thoughts this morn. We do. We want to control everything, but that's not the plan, is it? We are supposed to lead and guide, not force. Thank you for the reminder.

Sally said...

After I read your post on getting up early I decided to give it a try also. Man it is hard. But I have noticed how much more in control of my day I feel when I do get up early and get moving. So, thanks for the inspiration. Glad your health is improving!

jeanine said...

I too love to be in control of everything. It's hard to let some of that go...
I've also been trying to get up before my kiddos... it's a constant battle but I'm still working on it! You have inspired me!

Anonymous said...


So often that line is blurred between what we are supposed to control--what we MUST control--and what we cannot and should not. Wouldn't it just be so much easier if we didn't have to make that distinction? Easier, maybe. But at what cost?
I think this is one of Heavenly Father's ways of helping us to learn faith. Confidence in our own ability to control enough to overcome our natural man, and faith enough to just "let go and let God" when it comes to allowing others (our children) to gain that same confidence in themselves.

I still need to be constantly reminded that my job is to lead, guide, and walk beside--not push, pull and drag along! (Though the latter is usually easier and fulfills my need to control.)

One tip that has worked AMAZINGLY (when I remember to do it) is to spend an entire day allowing only positive things to come out of my mouth. For example, instead of: "Stop taking away your sister's crayons!" change it to a positive: "Will you please give the crayons back to your sister?" Just a slight change in tone and approach makes a HUGE difference in the feeling in your home, AND in the reaction of your kids. It's not easy to be so consciously aware of everything you say, especially when some things seem to spout out automatically. (Can you tell I have a "spirited" 4 y.o.?) But I promise that it makes a difference and is well worth the effort!

I still struggle with early mornings, especially after sleepless, baby-waking nights, but those mornings, I'm reminded of a quote by a man named Albert E.N. Gray who said,

"The successful person has the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose."

Good luck to all us control freaks!

Unknown said...

I needed to hear this today. Thank you.

sharon said...

I recently found your blog and I really enjoyed today's post. I lost my baby during birth 5 mo ago and am now 3 mo pregnant. I can not control what happens and it has been very hard physically and emotionally. I am day by day trying to trust God more and give up more. At the same time I know He doesnt want me to truly give up so I am striving to work harder is a mother to my two sons and throw myself even more into my art and other creative interests God has given me. It is a difficult journey but worth it and the more I give over to Him the easier it is to handle the really hard things

Sassy Salsa girl said...

And at least we CAN show up ;D

Heather said...

I really needed to read this today. Thank you so much for this.

I have a very spirited 2 1/2 year old and have been in need of some inspiration!

Bloom said...


Here are some things I'm learning:

Like Amanda talked about, keeping things positive is huge. I started listening to myself and realized almost everything coming out of my mouth was negative. "Blaine, don't do that." or "Blaine, if you do that, you're going to lose x privilege." I'm working on turning that around and instead praising every little thing he does (my friend, Beth, inspired this). Then, I ooze praise on the big things. "Wow! You tidied your plate to the table withouth being asked! I'm so proud of you!" or "Thank you for coming RIGHT when I asked!!!" As inspired by Em, via my s-i-l Rebecca, we now have a bean jar. Blaine earns lots of beans each day for good behavior--particularly for things that are ordinarily a problem. I do take beans out sometimes. It's working quite well.

One of the things that makes the biggest difference is my tone. When I get upset and yell, Blaine's tantrums escalate to a whole new level. Just a few minutes ago, he started to freak out that I cut his sandwich wrong. Instead of getting annoyed and telling him, "Just eat it!" like I sometimes would, I very calmly told him, "I'm sorry you don't want it this way. I agree to cut it the other way next time. Can you agree to eat it this way today? He said, "I'm not hungry," and walked upstairs. About ten minutes later, he came down, and ate the sandwich. I was BLOWN AWAY by his ability to take himself out of the situation and gain control over himself. It was a real breakthrough! You better believe there were oodles of beans awarded.

Really the credit goes to my husband for teaching him how to do that. When Blaine can't cope with something and is throwing a fit, Taylor calmly picks him up and takes him upstairs to calm down. He doesn't yell, he doesn't drag, he doesn't act like Blaine's being punished. He's just giving him an opportunity to cool off. To watch him use that strategy by himself today was amazing.

Hope some of those ideas help, Rachael!


Matt and Joanna said...

I just have to tell you that you've inspired me to get my life (physically & emotionally) back in order. You've given me so many great ideas that I can work on. I will start waking up earlier! Just so you know, I think it sounds like you're a great mother. I hope you're not too hard on yourself. Thanks for all of your great posts!

franklyentertaining said...

The one thing that works the best at our house is to have a plan. If I know what I want to do with a day and I have an order, it makes me more responsible to get it done. The same goes with the kids. If I plan out the things I want to do with them, then they have an easier time. Obviously, our days don't always go according to plan, but just having a semblance of a routine makes everything easier. I'm grumpier and my kids watch way more t.v. if I don't have any kind of agenda for the day.

Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jones said...

Thank you for this wonderful, honest post today. I needed it. Blessings to you!

Bec said...

I could relate with so much of your post today. The traits that my children have today that sometimes drive me crazy ( strong willed, independant etc) will help them so much as they grow up. To make their own decisions and not get sucked into peer pressure or being bullied. So it is a fine line to try and preserve that without letting them get away with anything.

Anna said...

couldn't agree more, thanks for your honesty in this post. Today was one of 'those days' for me and my girls. Tomorrow will be better.

Natalie said...

One thing that I remember one of my college professors talking about was trying to model our parenting styles after the perfect parent, Heavenly Father.

We all fall short of this, obviously, but one thing that hit me was the fact that He does not control every little thing we do. Exactly the opposite, he lets us make mistakes, make our own decisions, and when we fail, instead of "I told you so", He answers us with forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional love.

If I can do even a little bit of that, I win every time with my kids. When I don't...well you know the rest. :)

Natalie said...

p.s. Anne, I think it's so great that you've noticed that you want things to be different, and that you're taking the steps you need to change. Way to go!

Aimee said...

Great post--and what a lovely spot you have here! I'm visiting from the Mother Huddle, but have subscribed...

Erin said...

Anne, what a great idea to teach kids that they can remove themselves from a situation. I think it is important for children to recognize when they are overwhelmed and that it is okay to step away and regroup. We can all use that lesson, really!
Thanks for sharing your struggles.

Garden Street Zoo said...

This post was a great reminder for me. I get down on myself as a mama when I feel that I am being too negative, saying no all the time, and not keeping my cool. It is tough sometimes, especially with toddlers who have a hard time expressing their emotions in a constructive manner.

You are right, it is upsetting to the child to have the parent lose their cool or yell. Being a good example for a child 24-7 can be very draining (and oh so rewarding too!). Parenting is a work in progress, but it is good to re-evaluate and set goals.

p.s. I love the bean jar idea!

The Lindsey Ladies said...

Anne, we have spent many (many!) hours talking and exchanging ideas regarding our spirited kids. Hearing that the positive encouragement and reward beans are working is awesome, and Blaine calming down and coming back to eat that sandwich is HUGE! Doesn't it just feel so good when you make those kind of breakthroughs!

The positive encouragement I was telling you about is from a book that uses the Nurtured Heart Approach. We have been using it for about 2 weeks now and are seeing huge results. I must say that it can be exhausting to be up, exciting, positive and in the moment with the kids all day, but it might actually take less energy than breaking up fights, administrating time-outs or yelling.

Another good book is Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka. It has some great pointers and examples of how to deal with a child that is "more".

Sorry for the essay but I am just so passionate (like you Anne) about finding a good way to guide my spirited child without crushing her liveliness and spunk!

Rachael said...

Thanks so much for explaining your strategies, Anne. I really appreciate the time you took to respond & I'll be working to incorporate these ideas into our home!

Joan said...

I remember my Mom telling me stories about Taylor when he was Blaine's age. He was quite the "spirited" child himself...and look at what a DREAM BOAT he turned out to be!!! :)
You are such a careful, conscientious Mother, Anne. I don't worry about you or your children for a minute.
PS: Has your remedy been helping?!?! It sounds like maybe it has, I hope?

Andrea said...

Beautiful post. Thank you.

Marlo said...

Somehow my comment disappeared, so here it is again. First, good job Anne for your progress. You rock.

I have a strong willed little 3 year old girl who often makes me want to poke my eyes out with sticks, but I have recently tried to implement something another lady in my ward told me about. She said she always tried to be a "yes" mom, meaning she told her children yes as much as she could. She only used "no" when she felt very strongly about something and infrequently at that. So I have been trying this with my daughter and I have to say it has brought a lot of peace and quiet in our home. Plus, it is kind of fun. Yes you can eat dinner naked. Yes, you can color 42 pictures non-stop today. Yes, you can climb in your sister's crib with her. Yes, you can have some Easter candy. Yes, you wear that completely non-matching and inappropriate for the weather outfit. And on and on. These aren't the greatest examples, but it has really worked. When I stopped and realized how many times I was saying no a day to silly things, that I just wanted to have control over, I knew we needed a change. Plus, I finally realized that there is reason we have washing machines, so it's okay if we sometimes get dirty. Additionally, I know I was a free-spirited kid, so I certainly don't want to squelch that out of my own daughter. Saying yes is so fun and I think it is a lot more respectful to small children than constantly saying no. No one likes that.

Sometimes, I just can't say yes, so I just say, "Don't eat your dinner" or whatever it is I DO want her to do. I smile and say it in a pretend stern voice and miracle or miracles, she does whatever I say not to. This has about a 98% success rate for me. My daughter has been in the deep throes of a tantrum and I have used this tactic and she has giggled, snapped out of it and done what I want her to do. I don't like this tactic as much, but it is sometimes necessary when I need her to do something she MUST do, like eat, get in the car, etc.

Additionally, if I don't want to say yes (yes, you can eat candy all day long...I don't think so) I just try to distract or offer other options without saying no to the candy. Such as, why don't we have some strawberries instead, or let's read all your favorite books instead of running around in the thunderstorm, rather than just saying no we cant go out in the rain.

When all else fails, run to your room and pray! Don't you just love us control freaks.

Elisabeth said...

I'm loving this post! Thank you! Such great reminders and advice- all of you. I put part of the original post up on my fridge to keep me focused during the day on what is important about my little man- and to remind me that the most frustrating moments tend to stem from the qualities in him I admire most. They just need a little "steering!"

Mirien said...

Great post and comments! The personality traits that drove me crazy when my son was a toddler are now the things I love about him (he's 14). He is very independent and responsible. He does his own laundry (his idea) and takes care of his homework and scouting without hounding from me. He doesn't cave to peer pressure (so far!) when his friends are doing dumb things. I really worried about his teenage years back when he was little and I wanted to pull my hair out every day over the power struggles we had. I just wanted to give you hope that these spirited kids have so much potential--that's what gives me perspective now that I've got another one (child #5 of 6 is so much like her big brother!)

I'm new to your blog but I love what I'm reading. Thanks for taking the time to write things that are so meaningful and thought-provoking. I am a night owl (naturally) and a lark (most days, by sheer determination), but that's not working as well for me as it used to. I guess I'm getting older, and my daily demands are increasing. I know what I need to do, too, but haven't wanted to admit it. I must give up some of my late-night quiet time and get to bed earlier.