“The closest to being in control we’ll ever be is in that moment when we realize we’re not.” ~Brian Kessler
My nine-year-old son said something so profoundly right that it kept me awake. He said that in order for him to be happier I would need to let go of controlling him all the time.
Now granted he is young, and believe me, if I didn’t tell him to get dressed he’d run outside in PJs, but I was struck by his wisdom because this is also my obstacle to becoming happier.
In the past, the more I felt out of control, the more I tried to control others. We moved many times, sometimes to different continents for my husband’s job. We had children, and not all of them planned.
My husband and I drifted apart over the years, realizing we are very different and have completely diverging core values. I became sick with an eating disorder, a scary and tricky disease.
I felt overwhelmed, scared, alone, and lost. This is where the controlling mind came to rescue and took over. In time, my eating disorder became stronger than me, and yet also a familiar friend.
I tried to control both my eating and my body—and also the lives of everyone around me.
The emptier my marriage felt, the more I tried and control my husband’s behavior at home. The more I felt overwhelmed with my job as a mother, the more I structured my kids’ activities, often making them do things they didn’t want to do. Needless to say that didn’t help to foster my relationships with them.
I tried to control every aspect of their lives. Whether it was the lunches that needed to be made with a specific type of bread, or the homework having to be done at this time of the day, or the decision of which movie to watch, I told them how to do it and had a hard time letting them make their own choices.
I was hardly ever wrong—at least I didn’t think so. I thought control equals security equals happiness, up until the day when I took a close look at my life and found that nobody around me was smiling anymore.
They were miserable. They lit up when their dad came home because he did things with them that were fun and, best of all they never knew what would happen with him. With me they could foresee everything, and the routines were never fun or joyful.
That made them bored, angry, and sad.
And it hurts to admit that—but the great thing about what my son told me is that I have the power to change.
I don’t want my children to grow up in an environment where things don’t flow, where creativity doesn’t get sparked often, and where the predominant facial expression is a frown. I have to change.
That is more than scary because it means that I need to take a close look at things I want to have control over and understand the reason why.
When we become over-controlling, there is always an underlying reason. Our job is to determine what that is and then do something about it.
I’ve realized I keep a tight control of my schedule to avoid having breaks because I’m afraid to face the fact that I don’t always know what to do—and I think that my self-worth depends on my doing not my being.
This means I’ll need to face my fears of simply being with myself, and my instinct to distract myself, and I will have to come up with new ways of being.
My plan is to identify things I enjoy doing and make a list. This is the good thing about having a controlling mind—when I channel it effectively, it allows me to create great, efficient lists!
One of those things will be sitting still—not doing things, and for sure not multitasking. Meditation is my prescription drug. It involves listening and just being with my feelings of sadness, boredom, and all the others I have bottled up and hid behind activity.
I’ve also created a strategy that will allow my son to let me know when I’m being too controlling. We’ve agreed on a code word that’s the last name of a famous soccer player. The deal is that he will only say this word when he feels I am being overly controlling. This will prompt me to think about my intentions, and then back off if I realize it’s not in his best interest.
It can be humbling to give someone else this kind of power—especially since our little ones can really work us at times—but I feel fortunate that he hasn’t tried to abuse it yet!
I’ve also realized I need to accept that I can’t control how everything unfolds in my life.
In the past, I thought that if I controlled everything around me, and created as much structure as possible in my daily life, there wouldn’t be any surprises, and that would make me happy.
I’ve accepted, however, that I am not omnipotent or all powerful, and no amount of planning will change that the future is unknown. Still, I believe the universe has a plan for me, and my job isn’t to define or understand it. It’s just to trust it.
This, I’ve learned is how we let go of the need to control everything: to surrender more and stress less.
My mantra, therefore, is simple: Let go, have trust, and everything will be just right.
I will write it on post-it notes and stick it to control-crime-scenes like the kitchen or the kids’ bathroom.
This is what it means to “live life on life’s terms.” It means accepting that the future is going to be unpredictable, and even if we’re scared, we can accept this and move forward, trusting that we can handle whatever happens.