How Letting Go of Control Created Cooperation

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We no longer have rules in our home.

I was always about the rules.  "Do this."  "Don't do that."

Controlling over my kids.  It was a my way kind of thing.

And it was creating power struggles, and fighting, and punishments (because if they don't follow the rules there has to be consequences, right?!)

It was exhausting.  But I was so afraid that if I didn't hold onto control, my kids wouldn't respect me, and the real crazy would be unleashed.

The crazy thing is my need for control.  My style of parenting.  My ego and agenda were causing so much of the craziness and power struggles.

My coach opened up my eyes and encouraged me to let go. And it was terrifying. 
Kind of like sliding down a slippery slope trying desperately to find a foot hold. And sliding further and second guessing and wanting to go back to the way things were because it was just easier and familiar (even if it wasn't working).

But everything had to fall apart before it could be put back together.  Because don't get me wrong, this isn't permissive parenting.  This isn't an anything goes and I just sit back with a glass of wine and ignore the chaos.

Parenting's a job.  It's work.  We're teaching these little people how to navigate this world and instill the values that we hope to see in them as adults.

Controlling our children isn't teaching them.  When we're constantly telling our children what to do they're not learning to think for themselves.  If they don't know how to think for themselves they won't know how to act or make decisions that you hope they'll make when you're not around to tell them how to act or what decision to make.

If rules are rigid and unbending, boundaries are fluid and flexible.  Boundaries allow for input and discussion.  Boundaries allow for empathy that your child doesn't have to like what is being asked without it feeling like an assault to your control.

The end result remains the same.  The road to get there can look different. 

You establish and hold boundaries based on family values.  The values you want to instill in your child as he makes his own choices and decisions.  The fact is in reality we can't really control another person.  At least not if we want cooperation.  Not if we want them to take what we're asking and making it their choice as well.  Not if we want long term success.

When we control and don't allow for choice, our child will always be looking to you for guidance on the next step.  Nagging anyone?  And if they don't make that choice we feel this incredible need to punish because our authority is being questioned.

I slid down that muddy slope into the unknown.  I gave up rigid control. It was pretty ugly for a bit down in the muck and mud of navigating this new reality.  I felt out of control. And without my control my boys were a little crazy.  I felt like giving up almost daily. 

But as I gained a foothold and then another and slowly climbed up the other side to our new reality, I began to notice the changes. It wasn't easy.  I lost my S$%T more than a few times.  There were tears. Yelling. But I stuck with it (although to be honest if I'd read this in a book instead of working through it with a coach I would've most definitely given up)

In fact, let me take to one Saturday morning in particular. . . the value we were establishing was cleanliness and the boundary was that every Saturday morning each boy needed to pick up his room to vacuum.  Now picking up could mean everything is off the floor and onto the bed to allow for the vacuum.  This wasn't about controlling their space.  We're perfectly good with messy (this is their space in the home to just be) but not dirty.

The first Saturday went no problem. But the second Saturday, when it became an actual thing, my 7 year old wasn't having it.  He screamed. And yelled.  And actually pulled all his clothes out of the closet and tossed them onto the floor. I offered to help. He still wasn't having it.  This is where I would've given up. And yelled and punished. And still been left with a messy room and an all out power struggle.

 But as this boundary was flexible, I calmly told him that if he didn't want to pick his stuff off the floor, I'd put everything into laundry bins and they'd go into the garage for the week.  Because the value was we were going to clean the room how we got there could be flexible.

And that's what happened.  To say this infuriated him might be an understatement.  But by not creating this power struggle, I remained calm (for the most part:-) and simply held him while he raged.  Holding the space for him to be angry.  Holding the boundary that we don't hit each other.  Or call each other names (as this will always be the day that I became a "dumb stupid wiener butt").  It was expressing empathy.  "You're mad you have to stop playing and clean up."  I knew it wasn't about respect.  He knew what he was doing was wrong.  This was the best way he had to let me know just how angry he was.  Those methods would change as he grew into regulating his emotions.  But that was for another day.  This was just about allowing the anger to be spent.

An hour later, I was exhausted.  He was exhausted.  But he simply turned to me with a hug and said "I get my stuff back next week?" And off he ran to play.  As funny as it seems, I felt more connection to him that afternoon than in a long time.  

Every Saturday since he has cleaned up his room and vacuumed without incident and without nagging.  Sometimes with help.  Always with connection and understanding.  Holding a boundary based on a value.

When we're trying so hard to control our child and all we get back is defiance consider that defiance is a relationship problem.  There are holes in your connection with your child.  Focus on building your connection.  Boundaries, as opposed to rules, allow for connection and space for big feelings about what your child's being asked to do.

The Steps to Establishing Boundaries Based on Values:
1. Determine what family value you would like to instill
2. What are the boundaries that fall under that value (can be a discussion with your child)
3. Consistently hold those boundaries allowing for flexibility
4. Be patient and don't give up

Value: Health
Boundaries: bedtime at 8 pm, shower 4x a week, fruit or vegetable if you're hungry within an hour of dinner, limitations on screen time, outdoor time everyday

Value: treat others as you want to be treated
Boundaries: no hitting, no name calling, help when you are asked and able

The beauty of deciding on values and what boundaries are important in your family is just that, they are unique to your family.  Let go of the shoulds and have tos.  What's important in your family will likely look nothing like what's important in mine.  Or how you decide to hold those boundaries can look very different.  And may look different every day.

It is possible.  The road to get there is bumpy. And hard.  It takes time and consistency.  Consider that studies show it takes about 68 days to form a new habit give yourself and your child time.  Be patient.  Understand things will likely get messier. 

You're instilling values in your child that encourage the choices that you're guiding your child to make and when they begin to make those choices on your own you are working yourself out of that part of your job (which is your goal, right:-).  You're giving your child the reasons behind the boundary.  When he understands why, he's more likely to make that choice ON HIS OWN in the future.

You've got this mama! Throw out the rule book.  Focus on connecting to build cooperation. Because parenting gets easier when our child naturally cooperates!

As always, if you want to see what it might look like to have the support of a parenting coach to navigate this path schedule a possibility call today.  


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Irene McKenna