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 example. Screen time. Ever heard of it.

For me it isn’t necessarily the screen time that the issue (although it kind of is since I had about an hour a week as a kid and my brain tells me I’m supposed to limit it, but I digress…), it’s that they choose the screen to the exclusion of everything else (including eating!)

My boys wanted screen time before school. So we tried it. And tweaked it. Until we found a system that worked for our family.

This doesn’t mean they didn’t fight against it. That they liked it every morning when it was time to turn it off to allow time for breakfast.

But by not creating this as a power struggle, I remained calm (for the most part:-) and simply space for them to be unhappy it was done.  Holding the space to be angry.  Or hit. Or call names.

  I knew it wasn't about respect.   This was the best way they had to let me know just how angry they were.  Those methods would change as they grew into regulating their emotions.  But that was for another day. 

With consistency, the morning shifted. They still needed “help” each morning to actually turn it off:-) but that was part of being flexible. Meeting them where they were and supporting them to be successful. 

When we're trying so hard to control a 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. Get clear on what the boundary or expectation is
2. Determine what family value is at the foundation (because I say so doesn’t really work)
3. Consistently hold those boundaries allowing for flexibility
4. Be patient with yourself and your child

If a child continues to struggle, see it as an opportunity to grow together. To help them be successful. It’s not a motivation problem. Be a detective to what’s getting in the way.

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, start receiving support here!


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Irene is a certified parenting coach who is passionate about creating peace in parenting and opening parents hearts to what is possible in their family. She works with clients 1-1 and offers support through her digital course, The Peaceful Parent Playbook. She is host of the private Facebook Community, The Moms Hive. She is inspired to help moms let go of the doing that leads to the overwhelm and more “bee-ing” in peace, joy and a love for parenting.

Irene McKenna