How to stop controlling your children

Parenting

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If you’re a mom who loves her kids, it’s only natural to want to take control when you see them suffering or making poor choices. But trying to make our children do what we want is an exercise in frustration that will most likely end up harming our relationships. Here’s how to stop controlling your children and what to do instead!

I’ll admit it…I’m a genuine control freak. I have very specific ideas of what I think is the “right” way to do things and I’m not shy about sharing those thoughts. If you’re my friend, you’ve probably gotten some unsolicited advice a time or two (don’t hate me!) but if you’re my child, then I really apologize. I have admittedly spent way too much of the past 16 years of parenting trying to convince my children that I know what’s best for them.

In reality, we know that our 3 year old’s decision to wear a swimsuit in the snow would be a poor choice. But do we really know what sport is best for our 10 year old to play? What about what classes our teen should take in high school? Or what major our young adult should choose in college??

Probably not.

Realizing that we don’t know everything can be a painful pill to swallow. I’m still adjusting to the idea! But the sooner we realize that we’re here to simply act as a guide for our children, instead of their dictator, the better we’ll all sleep at night.

Here’s the thing: there’s only one reason we want to control our children’s choices and that’s because we think it will prevent suffering for us (including watching our children experience uncomfortable consequences). It’s human nature to want to escape the bad stuff that comes with life, but it’s just not possible or even desirable.

Think about the mistakes you’ve made over your the course of your life. Guaranteed they’ve caused you (and possibly your loved ones) some anxiety and grief. But what have they taught you? How have you changed because of those mistakes? Are there many that you’d go back and change?

By allowing our children to choose for themselves, we can more adequately support them through the good times and the bad. We can’t rightfully take credit for all the good our children do and become, but likewise we can’t take all the credit for their stupid decisions either (thank goodness). We get to just hug them when they fail and applaud them when they get back up and keep going.

Here are a few thoughts to keep us from going all control freak on our progeny:

1. Remember that mistakes are necessary to refine us

It would be cruel to carry a baby around everywhere forever because you can’t bear to see him bump his head when he falls. Don’t deprive your children of the lessons learned from failure. When they mess up (because they will), stay calm, show up with non-judgmental love and help them see the lessons in it.

2. Don’t parent out of fear

We don’t want to see our children suffer because it hurts US. That’s normal and part of human nature, it means you’re not an emotionless automaton! But parenting out of fear is likely to yield other negative results like children who rebel or never take any risks at all. Have the courage to let your children leave the nest!

3. Communicate your concerns with your children

Just because we stop trying to control our kids doesn’t mean that we stop parenting them. It’s completely appropriate and necessary to discuss our concerns with our kids and ask them what they’re thinking about a certain scenario. Then feel free to step in and set limits if your child shows an inability to make age-appropriate and safe decisions. But barring breaking the law or endangering lives, we should be letting children have plenty of chances to fail.

4. Show love, love and more love

Why do we parents (especially those of us with controlling tendencies) feel the need to lecture our kids after they fail? Life is chock full of all the natural consequences necessary for us to learn from our mistakes. We should resist the temptation to respond with “I told you so”, “Did you learn your lesson?” or equivalent. Instead, reach out with empathy, kindness, a shoulder to cry on and maybe even a story of when you experienced a similar failure. Be your child’s biggest fan, especially in their moments of greatest weakness.

I can’t wait to see the amazing parent-child relationships that result as we stop controlling our children and instead parent out of confidence and love!

You might also like this post about the most valuable lessons I learned in my first 15 years of parenting! And if you’re a parent to a teenager, check out this podcast episode with our favorite tips for loving the teenage years.

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