Trading Control for Trust

open doorMy oldest child grew six inches yesterday.

Well, maybe not yesterday, but it seems that way. Two days ago I was writing a letter to his kindergarten teacher because I was worried he wasn’t being challenged, and yesterday he woke up as tall as me. And a funny thing happens when your child, especially your boy child, becomes as big – or bigger – than you:

The illusion of control vanishes.

We don’t spank in our house, and I can’t specifically remember a time when I’ve used physical coercion or my size advantage to make my kids do something, but I guess I always knew that I could. I could pick my baby up and carry him into bed, even if he didn’t want to take a nap. But now I can’t. I know I can’t – and so does he.

Last night we were arguing about something, and at one point Devin decided he was not going to respond any longer. He clenched his jaws shut, made eye contact with me and his father, and flat out refused to speak. Make me, he seemed to be challenging.

And all three of us knew that we couldn’t.

I stood in my kitchen and remembered the early years of my marriage, when his father would do basically the exact same thing. I would push, and he would shut down, and I would push even harder in a desperate attempt to get a response – any response was better than silence. I looked at my kid and the memories waltzed through my head in slow motion, all the pushing and cajoling and inciting I’d once tried to get a reaction. At the same oddly slow pace, my instinct to get a reaction out of Devin stepped up behind those old memories. Try this, it cooed. I pushed the Old Habit aside.

I took a deep breath. I went to my room and got a few sheets of notebook paper, and I came back to the kitchen and set the paper on the table. I handed him a pencil, told him to sit down, and asked him to write out whatever he was feeling.

“No one has to read it, but you need to get it out, somehow.”

He picked up the pencil and started angrily carving his words into the paper. I kissed him on the head, told him I loved him, and went to my PTO meeting. He was asleep when I came home, but this morning when we woke up he was once again pleasant and talking to everyone.

“Did the writing help?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “but the Rip 60 Dad hung up in my room did.”

“Whatever works, I guess.”

He kind of laughed.

“Devin, I can’t make you do anything, I know that.”

“Yeah,” he agreed.

“But I’m asking you to stay in this family. Can you make that commitment?”

“I promise,” he said.

He hugged me and went to school.

I know that sounds like a strange thing to ask a 13-year-old kid, but I’m conscious of the fact that he doesn’t have to stay. Every time he walks out my door, he can choose not to come back. He tried to run away once, and I worry that he’s smart enough to get it right if he ever tried again. And I can’t make him stay.

The obvious lesson here is that we can’t make anyone stay. We can’t make them talk to us, hear us, love us, or be faithful to us. We can’t make them keep their promises. And that’s scary as hell, I think, so we cling to the illusion that we have some control. As long as we’re big enough – or nice enough, or good enough, or patient enough – then we can make the ones we love do what we need them to do.

And then someone grows up, and you realize that you can’t control anyone but yourself, and the only thing you can do is ask, hope, and trust – and trust yourself to be OK no matter what.

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  1. Kristina says:

    I so needed to read this today. I am struggling with my 14 year old and I don’t have his dad to help me (we are divorced). Its a constant battle in my house and am losing my ever loving mind….completely.

    • Miss Britt says:

      You’re not alone. This is such a tough stage. And I cannot even imagine doing it without someone in the house to tag out to once in a while!!

  2. Nanna says:

    Ahhhhh baby, what a good idea you had! I love you.
    Nanna’s most recent post: Focus on the Good Stuff

  3. Nanna says:

    And wow, what a great idea, the RIP6O thingie!
    Nanna’s most recent post: Focus on the Good Stuff

  4. momma says:

    Poppa and I start our day with our favorite prayer: “You are God, I am not! Praise be to God!” That prayer has helped us give up control. The big trick is to remember that we aren’t in control, and especially (when it comes to our children) we aren’t anybody’s savior.

  5. All I can say is thank G-d my oldest is still only in Kindergarten!
    Corey Feldman’s most recent post: Happy Birthday Elijah

  6. Megan says:

    It’s far easier to relinquish control when it’s not your baby!

    The only advantage I have with Mack is that he is still a little bit dependent on us. Also, he’s not particularly rebellious. Yet.
    Megan’s most recent post: Fifty-Two, Week 27: On Being Present

  7. Lisa says:

    You learned this far earlier than I did. But then I may or may not have control issues.
    Lisa’s most recent post: On the Upside of a Downward Spiral

  8. that kid is gonna be ripped with all the teenaged angst that happens to ALL teens!
    hello haha narf’s most recent post: Adventure in Tahn

  9. Melanie says:

    “I know that sounds like a strange thing to ask a 13-year-old kid, but I’m conscious of the fact that he doesn’t have to stay. Every time he walks out my door, he can choose not to come back. He tried to run away once, and I worry that he’s smart enough to get it right if he ever tried again. And I can’t make him stay.”

    Um…like hell you can’t. Am I missing something here? He is 13. You march his ass back in the house and make him stay. He is your responsibility. The writing it out idea is a nice one and we all want to do what’s best by our kids, but is an employer or society for that matter, going to let him sit down and write it out when he is angry and doesn’t want to speak?

    Teach him outlets for those emotions, yes. Ways to control his anger and stubbornness, yes. Parent’s fail to teach coping skills and we see the effect it has in our crazy, shoot em up world. But don’t make him unable to respect authority or react accordingly. You are his mother and if you ask him a question, he damn well better answer you respectfully. Afterwards, he can go rip it up all he wants.

    • Melanie says:

      I wanted to add….I am in no way disrespecting how you raise your kids. They are your children, you love them and you can do what you think is best. I also know he is your first teenager and they are hard, very hard. I figure, you can use as many opinions and stories of experience as you can because we are ALL in this together.

    • Miss Britt says:

      No, an employer or society will use consequences to control his behavior, the same way we do now. When he does something disrespectful or breaks a rule, there are natural consequences – just like there are in real life.

      But aside from enforcing consequences and boundaries, we can’t actually make anyone do anything. Not a 13 year old, not an employee, and not another adult member of society.

      That’s not me being permissive; it’s fact. We can’t physically make anyone do anything, really. As parents, we sure like to say we can, however.

      • Melanie says:

        You can physically, and must for their safety, make a child stay in your home. It’s not about permissive or parenting or anything. It’s an obligation you made when you signed the birth certificate and one that is enforced by the law. My daughter ran away, I had her but brought back my the police. Did she hate me? She did then. Did she learn? Well, yeah. When you pretend to be the big girl you aren’t, handcuffs tend to wipe that smile off your face fast. Did it kill me to half to do it? Of course. Did it save her from herself. You betcha. I can not imagine what she would have done,had I not physically brought her back.

        You can’t make an adult do anything, but it’s your duty as a parent to make sure you take all means necessary to keep your child from harm, no matter how tough it may be.

        You may be thinking, wow, her kids must be so emotionally harmed! My kids are healthy, functional adults with respect for authority and a good work ethic. You will not see them demanding the adult world cater to the their needs to spare their feelings. You won’t have to FORCE them to be a asset to this community because they know from an early age what is expected of them.

        Believe me, my parenting style has changed considerably since the first one hit the teenage years. Live and learn.

        • Melanie says:

          You will get there, Britt. He will teach you as much as you teach him. It’s one of the joys of getting through these tough years. You both come out better for it.

  10. I hear this. It is a tough transition for sure, and one that – if navigated with any grace at all – opens the door for a wonderful relationship with your adult children. People have asked me so often how my daughter (in college) and I managed it (and I was a single mom when she was in middle school). 13 and 14 were hands down our toughest years. My answer is always this: meet them where they are. I couldn’t drag her to me; I had to meet her in HER experience, listen to HER truth, navigate HER teen years with her. It’s not like there were any good clues in MY teen years. We got here together. We are blessed.

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