“Well, she can’t control her children.”
We’ve all heard it. We’ve all thought it. Some of us may have even said it. She can’t control her children. He can’t control his child. They can’t control their children. When I hear this simple phrase, I want to turn, smile, and offer a simple, “No. They sure can’t.”
Control. We all want control, don’t we? We want to control the outcome of a test (or an election). We want to control the results of a competition (or a pregnancy test). We want to control the twists and turns of our lives—and the lives of our children—as if we are all puzzle pieces just waiting to find the surrounding pieces, so everything can fall into place.
Sometimes, when I am out with my kids, my girl starts to cry. She doesn’t want to be confined to a seat or a wrap. My son might sit on the ground and refuse to move because that floor grate must be investigated—immediately. I would be forced to agree with you: I cannot control my children.
Here, though, may be where our paths diverge. You see, I neither want nor expect to control my children. If E wants to sit on the ground in the middle of Lowe’s and examine the bottom row of nails—which we all know is endlessly fascinating—I have a few options. I can firmly tell him to stand and continue with my day. I can squat down next to him and ask him what he sees, or what he likes. I can pick him up and mitigate the exploration altogether.
From there, however, I am powerless. If I tell him to stand, he may rocket back with just as firm a “No.” If I squat down beside him, he might take advantage of the opportunity to leap to his feet and run to the next aisle, giggles ablaze. If I pick him up, he may flail and wiggle to be free until I am forced to set him down again.
And you know what? That is okay. Because at the end of the day, my children are not my possessions whose will must bend at my behest. My children are not puppets for me to tinker with, play with, until I get the puzzle piece just right. My children are their own human beings, separate and full, and have just as many ideas, thoughts, and opinions as I, some of which will compete (and ultimately overpower) mine.
While I am not suggesting we should wholeheartedly encourage children to throw massive tantrums, kicking and biting anyone who comes close, what I have learned is this: he is allowed to feel. She is allowed to feel. And guess what—
I, too, am allowed to feel.
I am allowed to feel heartbroken when E is having a rough speech day. I am allowed to feel frustrated when I refuses the pears she loved yesterday morning. My husband is allowed to feel overwhelmed when he comes home and the house is a wreck and we are all having meltdowns.
We are allowed to feel. My purpose is not to teach my kids that yelling is bad, that showing feelings is naughty, that good children are quiet and complacent and don’t have an opinion. My job is to teach them how to know themselves. How to know what they are feeling, what they want to do with it, and healthy ways to deal with and express those feelings.
I was once on the other side of that judgmental phrase. I’d see a child in a grocery store, wildly flailing about, and I’d think to myself, “Yikes, mom. Let’s tone it down, shall we?” It wasn’t until I had a child of my own—two children of my own—that I really felt the plight of the parent trying to run an errand, pick up a gift, pay a bill, with a child in tow.
And therein lies the problem: I wasn’t willing to listen until the problem was my own. I didn’t offer comfort until the experience knocked on my door. And so, of course, I am reminded of some of what’s going on in our country. We operate under the misguided notion that there are two sides: parent and child. Someone in control, someone under a thumb. We assume that one must be better, one must be superior, to lift one up is to snub another or push another down—and that simply isn’t true.
Removing a statue glorifying a terrible time in a country’s history does not—and should not—inspire rage. Proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” is not tantamount to screaming that white lives don’t. Marching to protest the continuation of hatred and division is not disrupting the peace. It is not up to us to control anyone but ourselves.
There are some unspeakable ideas in the world. Unspeakable thoughts, opinions, and desires. Some of these are rooted in beliefs upheld for the sake of tradition. We’ve always done it one way, so we always should do it that way, no? Some of these are held in deep misunderstanding. You’ve never stopped to consider someone else’s life, someone else’s experience. You are judging another under the framework of your own life, and the two just don’t fit.
I am a white woman. I live a comfortable life, supported primarily by my husband, living in a home with my two children. I have the privilege of spending my days with my kids, working a few hours a day for a little extra to fix something on the house or keep up with unexpected expenses. I don’t know what it means to be a minority. I don’t know what it means to live unsure of where food will come from next. I don’t know what it means to walk past someone on the street and feel the uncertainty in their gait or catch the fear in their eyes for something I’ve never done.
What I do know, though, is that I can be culpable of ignorance. I can sidle past someone begging for food on the side of the road, experiencing little more than a pang of sadness before I go about my day. I can see a child with tattered clothes or messy hair and feel anger with parents, not knowing whether they’re doing everything they can to scrape enough money together for those tattered clothes.
I am capable of compassion, yes. I am capable of empathy, yes. But just as I judged parents with unruly children before my own wonderful, unruly little creatures fell into my lap, I can just as readily adopt ignorance, making judgments and laying blame without knowing the full story, without considering someone else’s life or background or fears. As a mother, a wife, a woman, and a human, my job—my purpose—is to make the lives of others better for having me in it. My purpose is to improve upon the world, rather than adopt old habits and ignore when things need to change. I can’t control the cruelty of the people around me any more than I can control the suffering of people around me.
I can, however, control my reactions, acknowledge my shortcomings, apologize for my failures, and work my hardest to shed faulty notions, biased opinions, and ignorant behavior, and I can teach my children to do the same, hoping that one day—soon—these lessons will not be confined to my home, but commonplace, simple, and expected.