What I’ve Learned about Control


I had a long post written for today about how my six-month-old sleeps so little. I had a list of tips to help other mothers who might be going through the same thing. But I realized that my struggle (and there’s always some struggle for all of us) is so similar to all of parenting: we are much less in control than we think.

Here’s what I don’t mean (O, Great Parenting Expert that I am after six months): I don’t mean that we should just let our children run around willy nilly. I don’t mean that parents have little or no influence. On the contrary, I believe we have a great responsibility as parents to teach and train our children.

However, we can’t control them. It hit me as I wrote about sleep that the main problem is that sleep is presented as a problem parents can control. But it’s much more complicated than that. I can’t make my baby sleep (aside from maybe giving him a sleeping pill). I can’t make him not suddenly lose it in the shopping cart at Target. I can’t make him be in a pleasant mood when family comes to town.

But I can control myself. I can choose to allow myself to be in tears because he won’t sleep through the night–scouring every book I can find and furtively asking everyone I know for advice. I’ve gone down that path, trying all the strategies and struggling to get a handle on things. It’s not pretty. Or I can surrender to my reality for now–realizing that I must go to sleep when he does and hoping that in the future, he’ll sleep more. I surrender to the reality that as I carry my screaming baby out of Target, it doesn’t matter what people think. I won’t punish him with harshness because of my own embarrassment or the fear of what people will think of my parenting.

We accept the concept of lack of control in some areas of life. For example, I really wanted a natural childbirth. I researched and exercised and ate well for months. I ended up having to be induced, but I was still able to labor naturally. However, I know other women who do the same things I did and yet, for reasons outside of their control, don’t get a natural birth.

It’s a delicate balance between being responsible and intentional and actually having control of a situation.

This isn’t an incredibly insightful post. But I write it to the parent whose toddler explodes in the checkout line at the store. I know you aren’t perfect, but I also know that your child’s explosion probably isn’t because you have poor discipline or let him get away with murder or lack consistency. I know that your child’s refusal to eat vegetables may not mean you haven’t tried every single strategy in the book. And I know that you are always, always trying–trying to teach self-control and vegetable-eating and manners.

This isn’t to say “there’s only so much you can do” in a throw up your hands way. But rather to say “there’s only so much we can do,” so smile and accept the good work you’re doing. Remain gentle. Remain patient. Keep trying. And most importantly I’ve learned this: You’re not parenting for someone else. It’s not about what I think or your mother-in-law thinks or the people in the other checkout aisles think. You know the work you are doing, and it is good. Don’t become a harsh and frazzled parent just because you don’t want people to think you are a bad parent.

Relax, surrender, keep sowing those good seeds, and trust God. We never were in control and never will be. Thank the Lord!


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