I don’t think I’m particularly controlling. There are things I like done a certain way but that’s normal right? Or is it?!
I’ve been with my partner Martin for over a decade. He’s a wonderful husband and brilliant Dad; fun, caring and playful.
He likes a day ahead with no fixed things to do (I like a plan), he happily lets the kids make sofa cushion dens (I’m not so keen) and enjoys playing retro computer games (not my thing). Quality time together is how he feels and shows his affection. I feel and show affection more naturally through words or actions; words of affirmation and acts of service as defined by Gary Chapman in his books on “Love Languages”.
As a couple Martin and I support each other to pursue our own interests. We have what we call “family days” but also “Mummy days” or “Daddy days” depending on what we’re doing.
In preparation for a Daddy day I automatically try to “help” by suggesting activities. I have only recently understood that having a vague plan makes me feel calmer, however the opposite is true for my husband. Timetabled stuff on a family or Daddy day makes him feel pressured.
My new insight is that “helping”, no matter how well intentioned, is veiled control. To date my “assistance” has not caused any major upsets, but I now appreciate how my actions could undermine my husband’s autonomy as a dad. My interference shifts the balance of power between us as parents and implies that I know best, which of course I don’t.
So with the next Daddy day approaching I am finding real freedom in not “helping” or making suggestions. Everyone in our house loves a Daddy day because Martin and the kids get to hang out together doing “Daddy things” and I get time to myself, safe in the knowledge that he is more than capable. This new demonstration of trust speaks volumes not just to Martin but also to our kids.
At Fresh Air Fridays, we view control as a continuum. A sliding scale between a sense of powerlessness with no control, or a need to try to control everything. Being at either extreme for any length of time can be stressful and tends not to benefit us or those around us.
The reason we explore this theme is to find balance. For some it might be steps towards taking control and getting into action. For others it could be noticing when to relinquish our grasp and begin to trust more. Where I am on the control scale varies depending on the situation and circumstances. I notice that when I feel overwhelmed or under resourced I try to control more. I become intolerant to insignificant things like crumbs on the table, clothes on the floor, or a bin that needs emptying.
When I choose not to sweat the small stuff I let go of the things I cannot control, or that I don’t need to control. It then makes it easier for me to make choices around the things I can control.
I can see, especially with children, that sometimes the best way to help is to do nothing and not help. I’m not suggesting we let people fail, but sometimes stepping back and trusting in someone’s ability to figure it out for themselves is valuable. Personal experience repeatedly shows me the value of us finding our own answers. It’s more effective and powerful for that individual. It results in a sense of accomplishment and self-assurance which is simply not there if someone else has provided the solution.
That is the place where we have the most autonomy and most trust. Our relationships begin to flourish when we take responsibility for our own stuff, and our stuff alone. No more nagging or being nagged. No more frustration or guilt. No more power struggles. Autonomy. Trust. Respect. Balance. Sounds great, but how can we achieve it?
As with most things, the first step is awareness. Noticing our behaviours, thoughts, reactions and actions. Next comes an understanding that we can only control ourselves. What we feel, think, do or say. Four things. With awareness and practice we can choose to be responsible for those four things alone, in almost any situation.
So, what do you notice for yourself. Are there areas in your life where you feel disempowered, or are there places where you try to help? Wherever you are on the scale is fine, there is nothing wrong. This is simply about noticing and then if you choose too, taking steps to redress any imbalance.
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