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.
Ok. This is great. I’m DEFINITELY
Ok. This is great. I’m DEFINITELY the strong-willed mom, and have certainly raised strong-willed children as a result.
So, now I have a 25 year old married daughter, (very passionate and strong-willed); a 22 year old daughter still at home and bouncing from going to Africa one day to remaining a nanny until she marries and becomes a stay at home mom the next, (This is also the one that will defend to the death her own opinion whether proven wrong or not!); and a 16 year old son that I have lost all relationship with.
It’s the 16 year old that my heart aches for right now. He seems so lost and yet will have no guidance from me. He reaches out for closeness, yet recoils when touched. We are to sit down today and start planning for his new school year. I just know it will end once again in an argument or simply a stalemate.
The time I have left with him is so short and precious. How do I change a lifetime of character in me to restore a relationship lost?
Wow. I do sound morbid, eh? I guess it’s just thinking about starting again.
God bless you for your ministry to homeschoolers and moms, Julie.
Jeri, surprise him. Don’t plan anything. Say to him what you just said to me. Tell him of your hurting heart, your regrets, the mistakes you’ve made that have hurt him. Ask him if he needs to tell you anything that has wounded him. This is not the time for defensiveness on your part. Just be open to the moment.
Let him know that his education is no longer going to be the measuring stick of your relationship to him. You want to become knowledgeable about who he is and what he’s about so that you can support him. You are giving up the control of how he turns out. You want to find out who he is and is becoming.
It will be really hard… but good. (Ask me how I know this… Yes, my oldest. We walked through the same space and today, at 22, he and I are so close, even as he makes choices that I wouldn’t choose for him… yet I know who he is and I love him and he shares with me. You can have that too…)
Pride. I’m a good mom. At least I am on the outside. I ache most when I lay down in bed at night and realize that I haven’t really heard the hearts of my children and wonder how many more times they will try to be heard before they give up on ME! Giving my children choices, listening to their needs, wants and desires, stopping, pausing, and truly hearing – all these very practical steps make me feel like a better mom, when I employ them. When I take such measures I do feel the right to be heard and less guilty when I must put my own needs first. Why I keep myself in bondage to controlling them is beyond me. I have even apologized to my children and nicknamed my altar ego the “Momster” because, controlling them really makes me feel like a monster. Thank you for the reminder that MY children aren’t really mine to do with as I see fit, they are human beings with an inalienable right to liberty. I must give them freedom.
Well…it actually went quite well. I took my “cheat sheet” of conversation starters, but didn’t even need them.
I asked him what he wanted to do this year. He obviously had already been thinking about it. He sat down, grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out several subjects. Just like that!
We went over the subjects together. I asked him what he wanted out of each one and we wrote a general plan for where to get the resources to do so. Very simple. But that’s just us.
The first thing I asked him was if he wanted a cup of coffee. I think that helped. It was a much more relaxing start.
It seems so much different with a son than with the girls. Duh!
Thank you so much, Julie. You are truly a blessing!
Julie, it was such wonderful timing to read this blog of yours today. In our family we started a new term of homeschooling after two weeks holiday. The anticipation of which was the source of much anxiety for myself and my 13yo son. We had ceased all schooling for the month prior to the holidays because our relationship was quite definitely defined by our homeschooling experience – it was absolutely awful. He was so anxious and frustrated and unmotivated. I was frustrated and angry and finding it hard to see the human being underneath all of his “bad” behaviour. So today we were starting afresh. Starting slowly – baby steps. Just a little bit of this and maybe next week a little bit of that as well. I will be working at trying not to let my fear of all that he should be doing get in the way of making this a good and positive and rewarding experience for him. One which he wants to continue. At on point in our discussions I could feel all my usual feelings welling up and I could sense all his frustrations, and thankfully was able to change course before we went down that same old road. Two things were on my mind that helped – this blog of yours from today, and also an old blog where you talk about when your daughter started going to school in 9th grade and how you worked that out. Something that particularly stuck in my mind was the conversation that you had with her where you said, along with other things that you would not “coerce her”, to do her school work, but that you would help and support her in any way necessary. So thank you for sharing your story and your wisdom. It makes a difference to many of us in big and small ways.
Jeri – I so relate to your feelings about your relationship with your son. I am pleased your conversation went well and I wish you and him all the best for your new school year and for your growing and changing relationship.
Fantastic article and so timely for me. My 15yo son is being allowed to make more choices this year and I’m giving up more control. It’s the right thing to do. The reward: The choices he’s making are GREAT! Thank you for your insight. I’m bookmarking this to share w/ others because I think one of the greatest weaknesses of homeschool moms is that we have difficulty relinquishing control.
Thank you soooo much for your last 2 posts!! You have discected the struggles I have felt for the past year or so!! I am pretty strong willed but my 2nd born has been strong willed from the get go (oh the stories I could share!) and he is also dyslexic which presents other challenges.
I am also so glad Jeri updated her post. I love your advice to her…”Let him know that his education is no longer going to be the measuring stick of your relationship to him.” That is beautiful…you should work that into your weekly emails somehow!!
I cannot even articulate more than a huge “THANK YOU!!!” You have given me so much food for thought. As I ponder your words and search my heart,I can feel a release of stress and less anxiety about the upcoming year. Change is possible and we will all be happier.
Julie and others,
Controlling is so second nature to me that I don’t even recognize anymore! What an insightful article and what encouraging posts. The problem I have is that my 19yos and I have so much underlying tension resulting from my control and consequent emotional outbursts, that it doesn’t take much anymore. In addition to my control issues, he is incredibly disorganized, messy,and forgetful so living with someone like this exacerbates the situation since I feel like I’m either nagging him to pick up after himself or do something he forgot to do, or I’m his maid and secretary. He’s a wonderfully imaginative and brilliant kid, but his level of immaturity is astounding. You put all this together and you have one very combustible situation!
I think our sons must secretly be brothers! I feel like I know how you feel. The situation in our house sounds very similar. We feel that we need to be working on restoring our relationship and our connection to one another, and so are in a way turning the other cheek to some of the frustrating behaviour, and finding any little thing that we can to encourage him for, because we were always “on his back” about something or other. I find it so hard not to react, like I’ve always done, to all of the things that I really think he just ought to know better about! I can understand why he tells me he feels like he can never make us (his parents) happy. I don’t know if you have read the book “Hold on to your kids”. Someone mentioned it on this blog a while back, and I have since read it, and really found a lot of things that helped us and made a lot of sense. It really helped us understand the importance of connection with our kids, and how they are much more willing to do the things you ask, or hear what you need if they feel connected.
Oh my! You know exactly what I’m going through. On the one hand, I figure if I don’t say anything how’s he going to learn (and when is he going to learn), but on the other hand, the more I expect from him the worse our relationship is. I think sometimes he feels defeated and has given up trying to please us. And yes – my standard line is: Shouldn’t he know better?? When I do say words of encouragement he seems taken aback wondering if I’m serious. Yes, very sad. I don’t like being this way, but I can’t seem to break the habit. 🙁
I will look into this book. But I have a question. You say you ‘turn the other cheek’ to the frustrating behavior. My son is really a slob and very forgetful. Should I expect nothing from him and focus totally on restoring our relationship or what? What’s worked for you?
Great questions here.
Let’s take this in steps.
1) Your son doesn’t expect approving comments. That means he hasn’t had enough of them. Find things to affirm starting today. Make that your top priority. Instead of seeing what he’s not doing, deliberately find three things a day that you DO see that you can affirm. Do that for some weeks before you address anything that isn’t working.
2) With the stuff that worries you, write it down in a journal. Think about it as if these were your struggles. How would you like to be talked to about them? What creative solutions might work for you? Reflect on ways you’ve overcome challenges in your own character. Think of how hard the struggle to, for instance, lose weight or exercise consistently. Live with that tension for a bit, letting yourself feel the frustration of having habits that don’t support your life.
3) After a month or so of affirmations, after you’ve identified the issues that you see your son struggle with, arrange a time to hang out over Coke (away from the house). Affirm, affirm, affirm any growth you do see. Then ask him what areas are frustrating **to him**. Start there. Ask if he wants to brainstorm some solutions with you. You can ask if it bothers him that his room is a mess. If it does, offer help and steps you will take with him to fix it. If it doesn’t bother him, let. it. go. He’s got to be left to be who he is. He’s 19 already! You aren’t going to change him. You can, however, love him.
4) Get a new hobby. 🙂 Do something you love that takes up time you would spend worrying about him.
Hope these help!
Hi Julie and Yolanda,
I love what you have written Julie. I wish I could have heard what you have to say when our oldest children were small – perhaps we would be in a different place now.
I wish, Yolanda, that I could say to you – just do this, and everything will be different by tomorrow. For us, it is only early days in trying to turn things around in our relationship. One thing that really struck me when I read the book I mentioned was a very little line – “Connection before direction”. Our children are younger than your adult son, so I don’t know if this will be of any use to you. The writers suggest that whenever you need your child to do something, or not do something – to connect with them first and then direct them. So: “Wow, looks like you’re really enjoying that game, sorry to drag you away – but dinner is ready.” I find with all of our children I get a much better response when I enter their world for a moment before asking something of them. We all know how frustrating it can be when someone wants something and you are right in the middle of something. When we “turn the other cheek” – we don’t just ignore everything, but we do let him know in a calm way (we address it later if we can’t be calm) how the behaviour impacts on us. We always try and make sure the message he receives is that we have a problem with his behaviour and not with him. We try and use sentences that say things like: “When I found your socks on the floor, I felt very frustrated and like its not important to you that I’ve worked hard to tidy the lounge.” I find it so hard not to just make accusations – “Why did you do this, don’t you know how much time I’ve spent cleaning up, you never put anything away!” I know for me that it gets so hard not to see the behaviour and the person as the same thing, rather than – my son whom I love, who made a mistake, or has different needs than mine. Does that make sense? I often feel that we will never get this right, that our relationship will forever be tense, and yet I also feel that this is the only thing that can really make a difference. Learning to express how we feel, and coming to understand that our feelings are our responsibility, and then learning how to express what we need to those around us is also something we are working on as a family. The hardest part for me is in expressing what I need and then giving the other person the freedom to meet it or not. We learnt a lot about healthier ways to communicate in a book called “Non-Violent Communication”. The ways Julie suggests to go about talking to your son, really remind me of this.
I don’t know if any of this is of any use at all to you. Considering that our struggles seem so similar, I hardly feel qualified to be sharing anything at all. In our house I feel that we are at the bottom of a mountain and we take two steps forward and three steps back. So the going is slow and frustrating, but I have to hold on to the occasional glimpse of healthy relating between us – otherwise its down that old familiar reactive response road – which I know is not helping any of us.
Hi Julie and harrygirl,
You have no idea how helpful your responses have been! I’m going to print them out and re-read them, and truly digest them (and, of course, implement the suggestions) and have my husband read them as well. Although I’m the one who has the problems, he’s the one who sees and feels all the fallout. He worries about both of us, our relationship and the fighting, and he’s really not sure how to mediate. And, Julie, how did you know how much I worry? 😉
Thank you, thank you again!
“Connection before direction” is a brilliant way to phrase what I’m trying to express here. The relationship is primary. Empathy is the key to healthy relationships. As adults, we have the responsibility to have empathy for our kids’ experience. It’s the highest expression of love and the most mature form of relationship. We can’t expect them to “get” what we’re about before we’ve lived that and modeled it to them. Yet we often do, due to our own needs and perhaps even our own brokenness from parents who didn’t do it well enough for us.
You’re all having such a good discussion here. One thing at a time, as we like to say in BW. (g)
Hi Julie and Yolanda,
Julie, in your last post you comment about living and modelling what we’re about and how we often can’t due to our own needs and brokenness from parents who didn’t do it well enough for us. This reminded me of something else I’ve read and the authors suggest watching your own behaviour and responses to your children, as often the things that you really react to strongly can be a clue to some of your own “brokenness”. I have found that I can really get crazy about what one of the kids has done, and then when I stop and look at why I felt so strongly about it, eg. someone spills something all over the floor, I realise that when I was a kid – making mess, even accidentally was not OK. And so even though you don’t want to or even realise that you do, you can find yourself reponding in the same way to your own kids. Sending them the same message – it is not OK to make mess. The best part about when you are able to make a connection like this, is that as an adult, you can begin to give yourself the love or acceptance or empathy that you needed as a child, but for whatever reason didn’t get. I have been able to begin to see that a mess is OK – we can deal with it, and the person who made the mess, is not “evil” because of it!
Oh, I do feel sorry for my poor children sometimes – having to live with me!
Yolanda, my husband also really dislikes dealing with the fallout. He is unwell and so home with us all the time and he really doesn’t find the hostility that is here sometimes, to be the kind of environment he needs to get well. It has been very therapeutic and encouraging and morale boosting for me to hear your struggle and to read Julie’s responses.
[…] out Part two of this series at Brave Writer Filed Under: Homeschool Harmony, Marital Bliss, Perennial Favorites← They Love What They […]