Letting go of control feels like not caring. Part of what motivates you to control your kids is the deep heartfelt love you have for their well-being. You care, therefore you control.
The experience of being controlled, however, feels 180 degrees opposite. When someone controls you, you don’t feel loved. You feel invisible. You feel discounted. You feel used or abused or undermined. The primary feeling is that you must escape control to get back to feeling like yourself again.
The danger of being a strong-willed mother is that you mistakenly convey love through control leaving your child paradoxically feeling unloved! It’s an awful conundrum and one that no mother intentionally creates in her child. If you find it hard to believe that this is your child’s experience, flip it around for a second. Don’t you feel unloved when you perceive your child to be strong-willed? When he or she resists forcibly the great meal you made, or the lesson you prepared, isn’t there a little twinge of rejection you experience?
Yet the desire to manage the external world competes with our hunger to meet the needs of our child’s interior life. How do we do that? How do we manage what our kids “do” while attending to their emotional well-being? So often it feels like you can only do one or the other.
I submit to you that there is a third way.
The idea in a family is that everyone can be their best selves when they are at home. It means they can let their hair down, be exactly who they are and still be loved. It also means that no one person gets to have the say-so over all other members. Families are cooperatives with wiser more experienced people in charge and younger, less experienced people learning the ropes. The idea isn’t to run a dictatorship (I’ve never, for a “New York minute,” bought the whole “this is a benevolent dictatorship” – really, who wants THAT?!). The idea is to set up a context where wiser, mature people can be resources to the less experienced, more emotionally volatile wunderkind (your kiddos!).
The third way puts relationship ahead of achievement. The idea is to create a context where conversation (communication) and negotiation enable all parties to participate at the level they are best able. So let’s cut to the chase. How does that look in homeschool?
One of the biggest mistakes we make as mothers is to assume that our kids know what is going on in our heads. We tend to share conclusions with them, rather than the process. So for instance, you may spend hours diligently debating a particular philosophy of math instruction online with your homeschool buddies. You may research the materials and shop around and peruse the books at a friend’s house. Then one day, decision made, you buy it and schedule the lessons. Your child looks at the cover, thinks it looks “boring” (code for: I’m unrelated to this book choice and feel put upon) and you feel devastated. After all, you just know this is the right program and you are certain once he gets into it, he’s going to love it. It fits him so well! If only he could see!
Now the stage is set for classic power grabs.
The mom feels cheated of the thrill of seeing this curriculum work (after all her labor to finally pick it and pay for it) and the student feels run over (he liked his old book well enough, he thinks this one is ugly and he doesn’t feel like learning how to do a new system – or whatever his reasons are!). Tears and/or punishment follow.
In the third way model, the choices about math books would be aired. Even with young kids (first and second graders), you can have conversations that let them hear what you are thinking. You don’t need to have a big talk every time you want to make a decision. On the other hand, simply narrating the process you’re in so that they can overhear it or participate in it goes a long way toward easing these kinds of tensions. Perhaps as you collect up the math book, you might say, “You know, I was reading about this other kind of math book today on the homeschool board. It’s called _______. And it reminded me of you because….. I’m thinking of purchasing it, to look it over. Would you be interested in looking at it with me online and then deciding if we want to try it?”
Kids love to be involved in decision-making, they love having their viewpoint valued. So much can be achieved through a little open discussion. You have to be prepared for, “Yeah, Mom, that looks awful to me.” But think about that. If that is really true, wouldn’t you rather know that before you plunked down your cold cash and then felt obligated to drag your child through the mud of unhappy math work?
With writing, the same principles need to apply. In Brave Writer, we give editorial control to the writer. As moms, we act as sources of input. We share what we see, love, want more of. We tell our kids what they do right and we point out areas for growth. We leave final decisions in the hands of the kids. We give up control (an illusion anyway since we didn’t write the papers) and allow for our voices to participate in the process rather than to control it. A strange thing happens when you “lose control” and validate the competence of your kids to make wise decisions (within the protected space of your love, input and oversight): trust. Your kids come to trust you… when you trust them to be truthful with you, when you honor their truth with support and kindness.
When a child says, “I hate this. This is too hard” trust is built when your response is, “I hate that you are having that experience. I want you to not feel that you are working too hard. Let’s see how we can solve this problem.” Trust is undermined when you say, “It’s not too hard. You can do it. You just don’t want to because you would rather watch TV.”
What is striking is that moms who give up control yet sustain relationship (through communication), have more power to ask for what they need from their kids. They can say what they need too! “I’m your mom and I feel responsible for your education. I want you to be happy in it too. How can we work together so that you don’t feel tortured by ________ but so that I’m reassured that you are learning too? I am willing to put things on hold until we can solve it.”
The happiest homes are not those where Mom gives up what she needs so that the kids don’t feel any pain. They aren’t the homes where it’s Mom’s way or the highway. The safest places to live are those homes where each person has a right to their feelings and needs (including mom, including kids) and together, they talk about how to meet those needs and feelings in a loving, non-judgmental, creative way. It’s not really losing control, actually. It’s ceding the right to power in service of love.