Recently I interviewed Emily Joyce about who pushes her buttons and how she navigates parenthood. She said one thing in particular that really stuck in my mind: I wonder whether a lot of parenting is about the loss of control and trying to cope with that.
It rang a big old bell for me, and struck a rather deep chord. You see long before my little Button-Pusher came along, I had a bit of a reputation amongst friends, family and loved ones. I tended to be a bit of a perfectionist, who liked to do things the ‘right way’, in order to make it better, brighter, more fun etc etc for everyone involved. Friends family and loved ones however, more commonly used the term ‘control freak’. Potato, Potarto…. Though if I’m being honest, I’m inclined to agree with them (just, please don’t tell them I said so).
Anyway, rewind to about 8 years ago, and when Mr Baffled and I decided to start a family, I practically scheduled it in. I thought it would be nice to have an early summer baby: give birth before the weather gets too hot to be heavily pregnant; birthday parties in the garden would be easy to do, and cheaper than hiring a venue during Winter months. So the ‘getting pregnant’ part needed to happen August / September time, early October at the latest. Turns out my body wasn’t following the same strict timetable as my brain, and it took 5 more years before our beautiful little B-P came to join us. And really, that should have been my first warning sign: I was no longer in control. Not feeling like you’re the one in charge when trying to get pregnant, feeling like you have no control over what your body is doing (or rather isn’t doing), well that’s a whole other blog post.
Becoming a parent however, now that really has left me with a feeling of being very much out of control. Not every moment, of every day, but often. I thought I was going to be a very relaxed, communicative parent, and of course there are times when I am, when B-P and I are in sync, and our day is a joy. There are of course also times when I ask her to please put her shoes on as we’re late for nursery, and despite having asked, oh I don’t know, one, two hundred times, I’ll still find her in the tea-party tent serving wooden macaroons to Buzz Lightyear. These moments have the power to drive me insane, or to coin a popular English phrase: they do my head in. My head throbs it is so ‘done in’ by this seemingly total lack of respect towards a simple request. And rationally of course I know that that isn’t the case. B-P’s just turned three years old, so I know she’s not thinking, ‘there she goes again with the shoe thing and the late thing. Have another wooden cake Buzz, let’s just stay in here and pretend to nibble on overpriced middle class toys.’ At least, I hope this isn’t what she’s thinking!
Toddlers are programmed to seek happiness and comfort. So sometimes when they don’t respond to a request, I think they’re just so in the zone of whatever it is they’re doing, that they just don’t hear it. I’m pretty sure this is selective, and there’re plenty of times when they do hear you. But to stop what they’re doing risks the loss of happiness, so they ignore the request, in an attempt to stay happy. And really who wouldn’t be selective with their hearing if they could get away with it more often?
A mum friend of mine, who also admits to being a bit of a control freak, said that at work she was used to being in a position of control, or at least being able to negotiate to reach a consensus, more often than not. She described living with a two year old as being ‘the most out of control’ she’d ever felt. You can’t negotiate with a two year old. Three, four or five year olds either I imagine.
When I think about the moments in our day when I felt out of control, I think that I made perfectly reasonable requests. But perhaps they’re only reasonable to me, the adult, and perhaps a three year old thinks that it’s just going to ruin the fun. Perhaps my expectation of what a three year old is capable of is too great sometimes, and we all know that expectation will kill you quicker than crack! Perhaps three year olds just see it differently, and you can’t make them ‘get it’. And I think that’s the issue that all us control freaks must confront and accept: you can only control you. No one else. You can attempt to reason with someone, or debate to seek consensus, but perhaps that’s one memo that wasn’t handed out in the birth canal: perhaps toddlers don’t negotiate.
They explore. They learn. They laugh. They cry. They play. They’ll work out that to get to nursery on time they need to put their shoes on. But today, today is my time to learn.
This is a story about control. My control. Control of what I say. Control of what I do. But control over another human being? Doesn’t exist, and shouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for kids being well behaved, and learning that they need to do as mum and dad ask of them. But controlling them, feeling in control of them? B-P hasn’t heard of Janet Jackson. There’s a party going on and wooden macaroons to serve. And Buzz Lightyear gets grumpy if he’s low on sugar. Don’t we all eh?!