I think having children brings up issues of control for many people, this has certainly been the case for me. When children are infants, they are entirely reliant on us for survival and we decide most aspects of their day. They may decide when they are tired or hungry, but we decide where they sleep and what they eat. As they get older we often decide more aspects of their day, but inevitably there are somethings we are not in control of and this will get more apparent the older they get and the more they make their own decisions. I struggle with this when I worry about the decisions they make and think I know best. There are inevitably times to intervene but there are times when it may be best for them to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes it is hard as the parent to differentiate between these two situations, partly because it is hard when you are the one involved in the situation to see clearly and partly because of the discomfort with letting go of the control. I think I struggle with both of these issues and probably the discomfort around the lack of control colours my behaviour the most. When worry comes into the equation and wishing for a solution to a problem, I tend to act quite differently than what my values are in parenting. Usually my wish to control my child and reduce the perceived negative consequences of their actions causes me to act completely differentlly then what I would like to act like and I tend to feel out of control of myself at the time. At times I am completely cognizent that how I am behaving is in no way helpful, but I can’t seem to stop myself.
I am aware that this is when I really need to stop and notice the feelings I am having and realize that my desire to get rid of the discomfort of not having control over my child and the outcome of their decisions is causing me to behave in an unhelpful way towards them and toward myself. I need to be mindful and accept that completely uncomfortable feeling of not being able to control the future or fix everything. I have to realize that telling my child the consequences of their actions is not necessarily going to cause them to want to change their behaviour and that sometimes the best I can do is be understanding of their need to be more independent and also be there to help them when they ask for help instead of forcing my help and my values onto them. I need to be able to stop and be mindful of what in my history is impacting my behaviour toward my child and try to tolerate the feeling.
Worry is common for parents, but doesn’t have to cause them to be inconsistent with their values as a parent. Learning to tolerate the unknown and the uncertainty of the future goes a long way in reducing worrying thoughts. Tolerating feelings of being completely out control also goes a long way in reducing the anxiety and worry of being a parent. I find that when I am able to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings evoked by not being in control, I am able to be a much more compassionate parent and a more thoughtful parent, which will likely do more for helping my child in the future then being able to “control and fix” my child at that moment.
Mindful parenting is really being able to be in the moment with our children as much as possible and when we find ourselves being hijacked by our feelings, to stop and notice what is going on internally, tolerate the feelings and notice the unhelpful thoughts that are stopping us from being the parents we want to be.