Time to stop being a control freak
Recently, on a night when I was hosting my book club, my husband walked in to the living room and started gathering our dirty dessert plates. I started off by rolling my eyes—of course he wants to take credit for being this great husband. By the time everyone left, the kitchen was clean, and I climbed into bed, furious.
As I sat there, I started wondering why this made me so angry. Was it about him getting “credit” for what he did? Was he showing off?
No. I was mad because I could have done the dishes. I was going to. And every time Tim does something like this, I take it as a rebuke. I read into his attitude anger, disgust—the conviction that he had to step up because I didn’t fulfill my obligations.
And then I thought about Tim. And realized there was no way that’s what he meant. He was probably just trying to be helpful. Not criticizing my lack of action.
OK, so maybe hormones played into this a bit. But still, even taking that into account, I knew I was out of line. (And for the record, I apologized.)
A couple weeks later, my daughter called me, nearly in tears. She was back at college, and she needed to find her black dress, and she had seen it that day, but couldn’t find it now. She had already looked through all her clothes. She was frustrated, didn’t like any of my suggestions, and took it out on me.
There may have been some stress and hormones going on here, too (hers and mine). But I hung up the phone, upset, ranting in my mind. I wasn’t there. What was I supposed to do? And why did I feel like such a failure? How could the fact the she lost a dress make me feel as though I had personally failed her?
These two moments keep coming back to my mind. So I’ve been examining them, examining myself, wondering what they say about me.
The simple answer? That I’m a control freak.
When my kids or husband call me that, it makes me angry. Because someone has to make sure things get done. Someone has to pay attention to the big picture, and be sure that the details are handled, too. If not me, then who?
What I’ve discovered in the past 22 years of parenting is that it’s a whole lot harder to fix something after it’s done wrong (or too late) than it is to just do it myself.
But what has that taught my kids? To lean on me and not do it themselves.
What has that taught my husband? That he can’t win, and it’s not worth it to try to help.
What has it done for me? Raised my blood pressure, primarily. The things it has done are not good. It’s exacerbated my stress, added to my too-long to-do list, kept me from getting enough sleep, made it hard for me to relax, and strained my relationships. The people in my life have to be frustrated with me, and I’m tired of feeling like I have to pick up the slack.
So I’m done.
No, I’m not running away. But my mantra this past couple weeks has been “Don’t do it.” Forget Nike. I need to design a new logo with this much-more-catchy tagline: DON’T DO IT.
When my son had a paper due recently, I nudged him all day. And evening. And night. To keep moving. To hurry up. I drove him crazy—and justified that he needed someone to prod him because he wasn’t moving fast enough. It’s entirely possible that some steam may have escaped out of my ears. And even though I’m certain he thinks I was being controlling, I nagged much less than I wanted to, and I didn’t sit down with him and try to help.
I’ll call that a win. Even if he didn’t finish the paper until almost 1 am.
When my husband finished loading the dishwasher without me asking, I didn’t go in and say, “I was gonna do that.” Instead, I finished reading a chapter of my book as I sipped on my coffee.
The fact that these are ridiculous examples just goes to show how skewed my thinking had become.
I want control. I want to make sure things work. I want to accomplish stuff, check things off my list. I want to achieve, excel, succeed. I want to be the best. Do the most. I want to make it happen.
But I cannot control everything. I wrote a little about that last week, and I’m still trying to learn this lesson.
I have tried to do too much, and in the long run, it hasn’t helped anyone. Least of all, myself.
So I find myself saying no. Not out loud, necessarily. But just telling myself—OK, shouting loudly in my head to be heard above the chaos that reigns in there—NO. Don’t do it. Don’t volunteer. Don’t take over. Don’t worry if it’s not done just the way you want it.
Do not control everything.
Because it’s impossible, and it only leads to more frustration, more feelings of being inadequate, more failures. And because it’s not my job. It’s God’s. The Only One who can bring change. Who can impose order.
The One whose job I need to stop taking.