“I’m in charge here.”
My 2 1/2-year-old girl, known here as Little Bird, uttered these words recently and repeatedly. This was the latest salvo in her ongoing battle to control everyone in her world and everything that happens to her. As her pediatrician said at her 2-year checkup, “It’s all about control at this age.” Boy howdy, is it ever.
But don’t we all want to be in charge? I know I do, and I get just plain cranky when I lose the control. Which happens about a million times a day, every day. The trick for me is knowing:
(a) which things I can control;
(b) which things I cannot control; and
(c) letting go of the things that fall under (b) above.
That rotten old (c) is the kicker, of course, and the most difficult part of the journey.
In The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Richard Rohr says that “all great spirituality is somehow about letting go.” (64) The good news — or bad news, depending on how you look at it — is that being a stay-at-home mom or dad is a spiritual bootcamp. Every single freakin’ day presents multiple opportunities to practice letting go of control. We should all be canonized as saints.
For example, a few months ago, my Little Bird was suffering from fierce separation anxiety, especially at naptime and bedtime. When I tried to leave her room, she would cry big fat tears and say pitifully, “Mama walked away!” I was at my wit’s end to know how to help her through this. Mama Guilt started to whisper in my ear, “You’re such a crappy Mom . . . why can’t you help her . . . why can’t you solve this problem?”
Two grace moments occurred to help me through this. First, I did some Internet research, and realized that this was just a phase. That’s all it was, not the end of the world as we know it. Whew.
Second, I realized that I am not responsible for my child’s feelings. She is her own person, with her own feelings. If I try to control or manage her feelings, I am essentially violating her personhood. I can do my best to support her in what she is going through, but in the end, she must go through it herself — as we all must.
This recognition helped me to surrender my desire to change Little Bird’s feelings. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and let it go. Once I did that, I felt a spaciousness inside me. My frustration and guilt washed away like the tide, and compassion flowed in. It was both cleansing and liberating.
I was then able to say to Little Bird with a calm heart, “I can see that you are having a hard time and you are having some big feelings. I know that you will be okay.” While her anxiety didn’t completely go away, it did ease up, and we had a rest period before entering the next scene in the drama called “Bedtime.”
This particular scene reminded me that I can live my life like a tight fist, grasping for control over life’s uncertainties. Or I can live life with open hands, freely surrendering those things that do not serve me or those I love.