For as long as I can remember, I have been a self-proclaimed uptight, Type A, control freak.
While still in high school and college, I would obsess about making perfect grades, practicing extracurricular activities, and creating dynamite presentations and reports. If I wanted something, I would work hard towards that goal, and I would usually reap the benefits of my time and effort.
After I started working, I would spend countless hours creating by-the-book presentations, reading up on the latest best practices in my field, and volunteering for countless extra-hour opportunities. In social settings, I dressed decently, made a pretty good first impression, laughed a lot, and seemed relatively put together.
Fast forward 8 years later, and I still hold on to my past Type A tendencies, but the chaos and mayhem of 2 young children has chipped away at my Type A personality and has left me firmly rooted in between a Type D and F mom. Having children has metamorphosized my inner core, and I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing.
Here are a few examples of how I have had to let go of my naturally controlling behavior and allowed the beauty of my children’s individual, unpredictable personalities to change me into a better-grounded human being.
Public Places…Specifically Restaurants
If you know me well in real life, you know that I joke about how my biggest fear is going out to a restaurant with my 2 sons. We do a lot of to-go ordering because it allows a control freak to stay in control. If we do go in, it is hit or miss with my 3-year-old and 7-year-old boys. Sometimes, they are so well-behaved. My husband and I sit quietly in the silence, afraid any sudden noise will instigate a spiral into restaurant mayhem.
Other times, I am sweating, scowling, walking my youngest son outside the restaurant, and counting down the minutes until the food arrives. It’s not that my kids are bad, it’s just that they like to move and explore, and they don’t like to sit still. Also, my 3-year-old is still trying to find his “inside” voice.
The control freak in me wants them to sit quietly, color with the provided crayons, and order salmon and broccoli florets.
The later was brought on because I saw my FB friend’s kids scarfing down kale and quinoa, smiling and laughing, clinking water in glass stemware, with the status update, “Kids were so well-behaved at the fancy dinner we took them to that even strangers complimented them. They said they were the best behaved children they had ever seen at this restaurant. #blessed.” Ensue angry face emoji.
Eating out with my 2 boys has taught me countless lessons in learning to let go of things I cannot always control.
I am not saying that I let my sons run wild in a restaurant. If it gets too crazy, we walk around outside. But, I cannot control their natural tendency to grab the salt shaker and turn it upside down. I cannot control their innate fascination with using the silverware as Harry Potter wands. I cannot control the fact that the crayons and activity menu might as well be a hieroglyphic manuscript because 70% of the time, they could care less about coloring in the mascot bear.
On the few occasions we actually let the boys sit next to each other, it usually ends up with one of them play fighting the other, one ends up laying down on the pleather booth seat (or under the table), and both end up laughing uncontrollably, with the volume of 1,000 Roman soldiers.
For as long as I can remember, I studied hard and earned top notch grades. My academic success was always in my hands. With my children, it is such a lesson in learning to let go of your own previous expectations and realizing they are their own unique people with different strengths and weaknesses. The control part of me wants them to roll over at 4 months, walk by 12 months, count to 100 by 2 years old, score in the highest percentile in math and reading, and get perfect behavior reports each day.
In reality, both my sons have reached their major developmental milestones at different times.
They excelled in different interests at different times in their young lives. Most days, we get perfect behavior reports from their teachers. There have been some days that we don’t. Ouch…says the perfectionist mom in me. The other part of me says that this is a great opportunity to learn how to deal with a situation that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
If my children were perfect, my job as a parent would be, for a lack of a better term, easy.
By parenting children who bring challenges to my life, I feel that I am able to grow as an adult by facing new situations that I would otherwise not experience.
Am I totally jealous of my friend’s children who seem to hit every milestone, and then some, on time? Am I envious of my child’s classmate who acts perfectly in the classroom because they don’t want to ever disappoint the teacher? A little. But, I like to look at my children’s unique priorities (milestone, academic, and behavior) as a chance to parent and influence their childhood, rather than be given the gift of a naturally “easy” child.
We all put our young children in organized team sports, in hopes that our children will maybe be the next Michael Phelps or Tom Brady.
After all, if we were athletic and enjoyed being on the varsity soccer team, then our children would have surely inherited that natural ability and love for the game. Perhaps that is a bit harsh to make those lofty assumptions of a 3- & 7-year-old. Many people initially put their children in organized sports to learn good sportsmanship, what it means to be part of a team, and expel some energy on a Saturday morning.
Let me tell you that as someone who was not the star athlete but practiced and gave my chosen sport my all, it is sometimes painful to watch my sons play sports.
My youngest son goes in and out of interest in soccer during the 60-minute practice. Once he starts playing, he is actually quite good at soccer. But, for a good 40% of the practice, he is hanging onto my leg, running onto the field when he’s supposed to be standing on the sideline, and constantly asking me if practice is over.
My oldest son, bless his sweet little heart, loves to run and chase after the soccer ball, but he doesn’t actually have the competitive edge in him to push people aside and jump into the middle of the play to actually get the soccer ball. If the ball comes his way, he will kick it and run towards the goal. However, a good portion of the game he is making funny faces toward me, is 5 steps behind the play, or is looking around at the other games going on.
What I have learned from watching my son from the sidelines is that he may not have the competitive nature that I had.
He may not realize yet the glory of kicking in a winning goal. He may not care that everyone else around him is running towards the ball while he is galloping, giant smile on his face, behind them. What I can see from his face is that he is happy. He is having a great time, even if he hasn’t scored one goal all season. He has not quite learned the angst of angry sideline parents yet, and I pray that these other competitive parents nearby don’t deflate his love of playing just to play.
The control freak in me wants to yell, “Run after the ball. Get your head in the game. Don’t wait for the ball to come to you.” However, the newly found, level-headed parent in me tells him after the game, “I’m proud that you gave it your all and that you made contact with the ball.”
The perfectionist parent in me wants to slump my head low as the other noisy parent down the sideline yells at their child to do everything he needs to do to score a goal. The letting-things-go parent in me walks past that noisy parent at the end of the game, with my head held high, arm around my child’s shoulders, giving my child a giant kiss on his forehead.
Good-Bye Perfectionism, Hello Appreciation
If I dig deep enough, I can still hear the voice of my old, perfectionist self. She rears her ugly head now and again just to keep me rightfully in my modest place.
However, it is liberating to acknowledge the fact that our children are who they are.
No matter what our expectations of what we want them to be or what we thought they would be, they will always just be who God created them to be. I learned a long time ago that trying to control or force them to be something they are not only leads to disappointment and strife between me and my children. Of course, my children are young. They are still in need of leadership and guidance and examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. My role as a parent is young and has only just begun. I am not saying that I have given up on discipline and encouragement or on pointing them in the right direction.
But by letting go a little bit of the expectations in my head based on movies, commercials, other friends’ FB posts, passive playground competition talk, and mom’s group gossip, I am able to enjoy and appreciate their unique personalities a bit more.
It allows me to care a little less about what other people think, and create a strong bond with my sons that will hopefully lead to a confident, trusting relationship with them when they are grown men.