Control: The Ultimate Illusion

10 May

{This post is part of a recurring series of thoughts about control and children. I welcome your thoughts!}

Control dictates entirely too many relationships, especially for parents. Control versus management; control versus agreement; control versus structure; control versus influence—is the difference just a question of semantics, or are they different ideas and practices altogether? This is a big topic and could be the better half of an entire book because the practice of using control potentially changes every critical relationship. Attempting to control our kids may directly affect our ability to stay connected and have a genuine and honest relationship.

A 16-year-old girl once confided in me that her mother set a rigid 10:00 PM curfew on weekends but that she sneaks out often after her mom falls asleep, ignoring the parental edict. By setting the early curfew, the mother assumes she is controlling her daughter’s activity and preventing her from getting into trouble, and the child cleverly allows her to believe this. Who is in control? When the daughter sneaks out of the house to join her friends late at night, the relative comfort in the mom’s mind and the reality of her daughter’s actual safety and whereabouts is seriously compromised. The daughter chooses to act out against her mother’s restrictive action. The daughter is not completely in control of her motives or actions because they are, in part, a reaction to the unreasonable restriction imposed by the mother. Sneaking out while her mother sleeps is not a clear and free choice for her; it is blurred by her conflict to obey and her drive for freedom, a very typical dynamic for many teenagers. The young girl told me it was not an easy choice. Inevitably, one day, the daughter will be caught sneaking out, eliciting a major confrontation. What happens then? If the mother lays down the law the daughter might just walk out and threaten not to return (which she actually did a few months later). Unfortunately, the situation never improved because both people in this relationship wanted control and each believed they were right.

Flashing forward to present day, the daughter is now 26 years old and raising a child by herself. The mother and daughter have endured years of conflict and are currently not speaking because the mother is still attempting to control her by telling the daughter how to raise her baby. There seems to be no end in sight. Control is a relationship-breaker not a builder. If only the mother and daughter could have felt comfortable collaborating and discussing what was most important to them in the early years of their relationship, they might have found their respective motives were not far apart. Looks like they will never know now. For the most part this challenging mother daughter relationship is not the norm. Many parents have indeed developed enough communication and trust that getting through the landmines of the teenage experiences with some fun and joy. We just have to be aware that kids will naturally resist control and begin building independence earlier than we expect.

Please check back with me on 5/15/2012 for more on this topic! Until then, feel free to let me know if you have any questions or share your own opinion. We are all in this together.

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