Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ceding Control or Just Letting Go (A Bit)

Lately I find myself noticing all the ways I'm ill-prepared for the next several years. I thought that the sleep-deprived years with irrational toddlers would be the worst for me, but I can see that older children are going to challenge me in ways for which I am wired for failure.

My eldest hit double digits last week. In most ways, he's still very much a little kid, but I can see the imminent future. I always knew that my children would grow up and grow away from me, but I only recently have begun to experience how hard that will be for me. I want independent children, but I'm used to controlling nearly every aspect of their lives.

I do not want to be an overbearing parent. I want my children to be independent and learn from their mistakes. But I'm a control freak, and losing control will be challenging for me.

I wasn't thrilled about sending my child to his first sleepover party, and I knew the problem was me. I didn't know the parents well, and what I did know suggested a very different parenting style than mine. I knew he'd be safe and cared for, but I also guessed he'd have a lot more leeway (and fun) than I would permit. My rational self told the crazy self to get over it. He'd be fine. And he was.

I bumped into the host on Monday and learned that my son had been one of the lucky ones in the "quiet room" that went to sleep before the wee hours of the morning. One guest brought an iPad, and the boys in the not-so-quiet room stayed up late watching stuff.

Even assuming what they watched was benign, I was still indignant about it. In my world view, no nine- or ten-year-old should have his own iPad. At a minimum, he should not have such free reign with that device that he can pack it for sleepovers.

I was working up a pretty good rant about it in my head when a Facebook conversation forced some perspective on me.

My parents were not like me. They did not have this urge to control.

They gave up trying to get me to bed at a reasonable hour when I was ten because (I gather) it was no longer worth the hassle. They frequently left me in the care of my aunts and uncles, who were young and fun and took me to every bar in town by the time I was five. When I was fifteen, my parents let me ride to school (and arrive tardy) each morning with a senior boy of questionable responsibility who drove a car that reeked of beer.

Yesterday, as I mentally ranted about ten-year-olds and their electronic devices, I reminisced online with that boy about those morning car rides. He is now a father of three daughters, and I asked if he would let his daughters ride with his teenage self. He said he wouldn't let them in the dilapidated car no matter who was driving.

I spent much of the afternoon thinking about what that car and driver must have looked like to my parents (they looked very cool to fifteen-year-old me). I wondered if my parents worried about my getting to school. I was amazed they didn't care that I was late every day. I couldn't believe they ceded such control to a teenager.

That's when I noticed the difference between my parents and me. I want to control everything my kids do--when they sleep, what they eat, how they spend their free time--and my parents, within obvious limits, trusted that everything would be fine.

Didn't my parents care about my well-being? Of course they did. Is the difference generational or an individual personality trait? Probably some combination of both. Can I learn something from the way they did things? Absolutely.

It's not going to be easy for me, but I am going to have to trust my children to make some bad decisions and still turn out ok. If I don't want them living in my basement in twenty years, I need to start trusting them now to make their own judgments and learn to live with the results.

I need to cede small bits of control while the stakes are low before it is wrested from my grasp entirely. That's a lot for a control freak to handle, but I'm going to do my best. The intended results--responsible, independent children--will be worth the angst.


  1. I completely resonate with this having two boys that are now 10 and 12. They are venturing into the world of iPods and my 12 year old now has a basic cell phone. I've wavered between being completely overbearing and policing absolutely everything my 12 year old texts and says and plays to being much more relaxed. I realized that by doing an insane amount of policing, I was going to destroy our relationship. I have Internet safety software installed on the iPod to keep questionable sites and searches blocked. I have the right to pluck his phone or iPod from him and read anything I want, which I do from time to time. I was thinking about the crazy notes that my friends and I used to pass and the conversations we had after school on the phone or at practice. My mom would have been mortified, I'm sure. But she did not demand to read any note that was in my backpack. I have to remember those kinds of things going forward. Somewhere along the way our generation has become controlling as you describe and completely paranoid. I struggle with it, but I also want to give them the chance to fly and to fall. They will need both experiences in life, and I think it is about finding the balance with it all. To be encouraging without being neglectful.

    1. The Internet has definitely added a whole new dimension to parenting. We did stupid things and passed notes that would mortify our mothers (and our current selves), but the threat of those things being widely disseminated or permanent was close to nothing. I suppose, however, that the message is still the same--be responsible and kind, and accept any consequences if you are not.

      I also think the Internet fuels us control freaks. I don't recall Good Housekeeping or Ladies Home Journal warning my mother of the hazards of every little thing I might do, but we are bombarded by such things online.

      So there. I may be a control freak, but it's the fault of the Internet. :)

  2. Susie: Great blog. I turned out ok and my parents didn't control everything. It is about trust, values, responsibility and independence. They taught me every choice has a consequence. I am sure I had more good consequences due to good choices than bad. "Think before doing and make sure you understand the results or consequences of your choices."