Do you ever find yourself witnessing a tantrum or behaviour from your children and feeling that at that particular moment in time you have no control over what’s going on? It’s disheartening and disempowering, isn’t it? Personally, when I feel like I have no control over something that involves my children I tend to feel quite stressed. When these scenarios happen in public, where we feel exposed and judged, for example, or when we’re busy, in the middle of doing something else, we can feel the emotions building up inside us and start bubbling to the surface ready to explode. But without wanting to get into a debate on parenting methods or choices here, there’s a fairly simple answer to this. Acknowledging that there are things we have no control over at all. And choosing to let go of what we cannot change or control. Instead, we should focus on what we can control. But what exactly is that?
You can’t control your children’s thoughts, emotions or feelings
Yes, up to a certain age and to a certain degree, as a parent, you have control over a lot of things when it comes to your children. You can control what they eat, where they sleep, what school they go to, what after-school clubs they attend, what friends they can see on the weekend etc. But you can’t really control their thoughts, emotions or feelings.
I’ll give you an example of a very mundane scenario that’s quite typical in our household. And that’s my two older children bickering because one won’t give the remote to the other. Often, I’ll be cooking dinner. (Or trying to). Broadly speaking, I have a choice to do one of these two things:
- Try and let them be, hoping they’ll work out some sort of arrangement between themselves. (But you know as well as I do that things will just escalate, and at least one will end up in tears).
- Go in and try and find a solution for them, knowing full well that someone will end up grumpy and upset anyway. Probably at me too. Or, in the unlikely event you’ve miraculously managed to make them all temporarily happy, they’ll somehow manage to start another fight within the following 3 minutes.
Do you really have control of these situations?
I don’t know what you think, but personally, after years of trial and error, implementing different ‘communication strategies’ with my children, I’ve come to the conclusion that no, I don’t actually have much control over these situations.
Because I cannot control how they are feeling on a given day. I cannot control what they’re thinking, how tired or emotional they are feeling, and how they will react or behave in any particular circumstance. Yes, I know them well, and I can make educated guesses. I can also, to a certain extent, influence the type of situations we want to find ourselves in versus the ones we want to avoid. I can, and I do. But not always. Because we can take this scenario as an example – I could make sure there’s no TV or remote to fight over while I’m making them dinner, but there’s a very high chance they’ll end up fighting over something else!
What you can control are your own thoughts
Often when I feel I have lost control of a situation at home is simply because I am not my children. I have to acknowledge and accept that they are their own people. And I might be their mum and have the job to care for them and protect them, but I cannot what goes on inside them. I cannot control how they interact with each other, or how they decide to react or respond to a given situation. Fact is, I can barely control my own. What I can control though are my own reactions to my own emotions, thoughts and feelings. And by controlling my reactions I can model a certain type of behaviour that over time my children may or may not make their own and integrate into their own lives.
I loved this quote from the book, You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay, where she says: “You are in control of your mind. You use your mind. You can stop thinking those old thoughts. […] The only thing you ever have any control of is your current thought. Your old thoughts are gone; there is nothing you can do about them except live out the experiences they caused. Your current thought, the one you are thinking right now, is totally under your control”.
So if there’s so much we have no control over, what do we do? We let go.
We’ve all heard the quote: “Let go of the things you can’t control”, haven’t we? The funny thing is, we all find it hard. The need of control, in itself, is the first things we need to let go of. And often we have so much more that we need to let go of, but we’re either oblivious and unaware of it, or we don’t take the time to actually do it. Because it’s hard. And it requires focused work.
As I said, for me, finding that I don’t have control over certain things that happen to us at home is a source of stress. And I believe I owe it to myself and to my family to make some tweaks to make our days less stressful, so I’m happy to make some changes and start letting go.
Letting go of what you cannot change
When we get caught up in stressful thoughts and emotions, we have a choice. We can choose to feed these thoughts by going over them again and again, or stop the stress-filled storytelling – stop feeding these thoughts. It’s hard to do when you’re in the moment, but that’s exactly when practising mindfulness regularly comes in handy. Because it becomes easier for you, even in emotionally-charged situations to quickly open the toolbox and get what you need out. Things like acceptance, compassion and kindness.
Let’s use my example of the TV remote again. Realistically, I probably cannot stop my children from fighting over the remote or whatever else, but when that happens, I can certainly stop myself in my tracks when the thoughts in mind start going a bit like this:
“Oh no, not again! Why do they always have to do this? This is so annoying and irritating! Why is it that I cannot leave the room for 2 minutes to make their dinner without them starting this silly bickering? This is so unfair! Why can’t any of this be easier? I wish I didn’t have to deal with this right now”.
I’m sure I don’t have to explain how these thoughts make me feel. But mindfulness can get me out of this situation. I cannot change the fact they’re fighting. I can change my thoughts, so I can change how I feel and how I will respond as a result. My response to the situation will determine what happens next. This is letting go of the need to control something that cannot be changed while working on something that can be changed.
Letting go of what doesn’t serve you or bring you joy anymore
Another very very hard thing to do. This is effectively your decluttering process. Decluttering isn’t just for physical items – you can declutter thoughts, emotions, activities or even people. Let go of whatever doesn’t ‘spark joy’ anymore (in the words of the famous Marie Kondo), and you’ll definitely feel so much lighter for it.
Often we hold on to things, people, emotions, habits, even jobs that no longer serve us, that we no longer enjoy. So take a moment to have a look at how you spend your days. Is there anything you see, do, or engage with that no longer makes you happy? Or that actually brings you down? Take some time out to list the things that make you unhappy or stress you out, even. How would you feel if they were no longer there? Sometimes our limiting beliefs make us hold on to ‘stuff’, but that’s just the fear talking.
Letting go of fear
So try and let go of fear too. Fear of failure, abandonment, of being criticised or judged. Fear of missing out, of not being part of something anymore. Don’t all these fears determine so many of our decisions in life? What if we were actually brave enough to push them into a corner for a second, turn them around, and make them into our superpowers? What if instead of being afraid of trying because we may fail, we go for it because we may actually succeed? And what if it turns out that actually, people are too busy with their own lives and challenges to spend time criticising or judging you? What if it actually works out? We can’t always control how other people will react to our actions. But we can’t base our actions on fear of how others might react.
Letting go of what’s not important in the grand scheme of things
I can get caught up in this a lot and on a daily basis, if I’m not careful. So what if the living room is still a mess when I go to bed at night? Or if one child decides he’s not going to eat what they said they wanted? Will it matter tomorrow? Will it matter in a year’s time? In the grand scheme of things? Let’s think about our perfectionist tendencies again. Don’t we just put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to control every little detail, when in the end they don’t really matter?
Letting go of the past
And finally, I loved this quote from Louise Hay once again. “What we often refuse to realise is that holding on to the past – no matter what it was or awful it was – is ONLY HURTING US. […] We are only hurting ourselves by refusing to live in this moment to the fullest”. And it’s true, isn’t it? If we cannot look past feelings of anger, resentment and hate, for example, how do we really move on? But bringing this back to the small, mundane things, I may have allowed my thoughts to go on a stressful spree once or twice when the children are fighting, for example. That happened, and I cannot change it. But if that fight over the remote starts again today, I know what I can let go of. And I know what I can control.
My current thoughts.
And isn’t that powerful?
I’d love to know what you think. Do you ever feel ‘out of control’ as a mum? How does the thought make you feel? Could you benefit from letting go of more in your life?