Giving up on control

“Having given up the effort to be in control, we can begin to pay attention to how things are, rather than the way we want them to be. Without the effort to stay in control, it’s often more possible to make workable decisions, and to like the children we have again.”

— Patty Wipfler


Dear Emory,

I’m exhausted.  My six-year-old is running rings around me, and his three-year-old sister is following his lead.  I am tired of their yelling.  I am tired of their whining.  And I am tired of feeling like they are running the show.  If anyone looked into my house, most of the time they would think it was an out-of-control circus, and they would probably be right.  Please, tell me how I can get my children to respect me and do what I say! 

— “Burnt Out” on Brunett Avenue

Dear “Burnt Out,”

Take heart.  There are times when every parent feels like the situation is out of control.  Every parent has a personal threshold, and when we pass it we can feel powerless in the face of our own despair and discouragement.  At this point, we often act just like our own parents did when they were reacting to us—with yelling, threatening, blaming, shaming, and worse.

So when you are at your wit’s end—what can you do?  It’s easy enough to follow your instincts, and act as crazily angry as you feel.  Then what?  If you yell loudly enough, you may terrify your children into submission in the short term.  But do you really want to use loud yelling as your best go-to parenting technique?  It’s exhausting, and your throat will hurt.  And over the long term, your children will not only learn that your bark is worse than your bite, they will eventually react with the contempt such disrespectful treatment deserves.

There are better ways to discipline children—you can teach them cooperation and responsibility with an approach that is both loving and respectful—and you will probably have to make an effort to learn and practice your new skills.  The 27 year old Parent Encouragement Program offers some of the best parenting classes in the nation right here in our community.  Each class is taught by someone who first came to take a PEP class as a desperate parent, even though their “other job” might be anything from an NIH scientist, a national journalist, or an international business executive.  Become a member of this organization and you will continue to get parenting support and encouragement in the years ahead.

In the meantime, “Burnt Out,” give yourself credit for everything you are doing that is fun, that is good, and that is working well in your family.  It’s easy to feel so bad about the things that seem wrong, we miss noticing what is going right.  Are you providing your children with happy moments, even though you often feel sad?  Are you making the effort to feed your children nutritious, tasty food, even though you are worn out?  Give yourself credit where credit is due.

And finally, as Patty Wipfler, found of the Parent’s Leadership Institute suggests, throw some expectations overboard.  Let the house be a mess for a couple of weeks or months or years, let the relatives be grumpy because you decided not to visit this month, or take a nap during your lunch break, even though people at work will talk.  You get to decide what’s really necessary and what’s not, and keeping up appearances while parenting is often a joy-killer.

My favorite is her suggestion “when you’re at your wit’s end, lie down on the floor for a while.”  As she notes, when we’re frazzled, the things we do aren’t usually very successful. Our children’s tensions and our tensions make a knot that keeps tangling tighter. At times like these, if we “give up” for 10 or 15 minutes, and lie down on the floor, it provides enough of a contrast to the previous tense situation that we and our children can take a fresh start with each other.  Sometimes we can give ourselves permission to cry, which helps release tension. Sometimes, our children come around and decide they want to be close. They sit on our tummies, or crawl under our legs, or start jumping over us for fun. Having given up the effort to be in control, we can begin to pay attention to how things are, rather than the way we want them to be. Without the effort to stay in control, it’s often more possible to make workable decisions, and to like the children we have again.

On November 11th, Emory Luce Baldwin will lead an Open Forum Counseling session with parents and their children on the topic “Can’t I Get Some Help Around Here?” You can contact Emory at 301-588-1451 or go to emorylucebaldwin.com.

About the Author

Emory Luce Baldwin
Emory Luce Baldwin is the co-author of "Parenting With Courage and Uncommon Sense." In addition to being a Takoma Park mom for more than 25 years, Emory is also a family therapist in private practice and a parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP). Well over a thousand parents have learned from her how to have healthier, happier, and better functioning families — while enjoying her good humored yet practical approach to the ups and downs of family life. Emory’s family therapy offices are located in Takoma Park and at the Parent Encouragement Program in Kensington. You can read more about her at her website: www.emorylucebaldwin.com