I almost lost my mind over a bath toy the other day. You see, I had just finally got my son to bed almost 2 hours past his bedtime and was cleaning up his bath toys. He has this Daniel Tiger bath toy where Daniel Tiger sits on top of this boat. The problem was that Daniel Tiger doesn't fit on top of the boat in his little crevice so he continues to fall off the boat when you put him on top of it. Why would they make a toy where Daniel Tiger can't stay on the frickin' boat?!? What's the point of having a Daniel Tiger boat if Daniel can't even drive the boat?!?! After the fifth time of placing the boat on the side of the tub and the little Daniel figurine falling off AGAIN I threw the toy across the room.
If you haven't already guessed, this post isn't about a bath toy or the makers of Daniel Tiger bath toys. Although to be honest if I had an extra minute in my day I might write them a letter.
I stopped for a minute and laughed at myself when the boat crashed into the corner of the bathroom. I was being utterly ridiculous. And my therapist self began to take over and I began to analyze. What is the real problem here? Often when we are losing our rational selves over inconsequential problems they are symbols that the larger problems underneath are unresolved and taking their toll.
For me the bath toy incident was about losing control. I needed to have some control and when this simple bath toy wasn't cooperating I couldn't handle it. But it represented the larger issues out of my control that I have been managing lately. I can't seem to get my son on a decent schedule after our move across the world. I don't have control in my sense of what the next year would bring. Will I make friends? Will I feel comfortable here? What will happen to my career while I take a year off? I wasn't slowing down to think and resolve my fears and insecurities. And it all came crashing down on poor little Daniel Tiger.
People have a difficult time with balancing control. There is the camp of people who must have control all the time and have many emotional difficulties when they lose it. Then there is the camp of people who have mantras like "It is what it is" and "Let go and let God" and go through life believing that things happen to them and exercising any control is futile. But even for these people I believe they still are exercising some control-just control in they way they perceive a situation or problem.
As with most things in life its about balance. Control is a very human need. Having control usually helps us feel safe and secure because there is so much in this world that is out of our control. The world keeps turning without our say. The minutes tick by and there is nothing we can do to stop them. Bad things happen. People get sick, people die, disasters occur without anyway of preventing them. It makes sense that some people stay up late into the night organizing books alphabetically or scrubbing the grout on their tile floors until its spotless. We all have ways of coping with uncertainty of the future and having little to no control over it. Its up to us to figure out if that is a healthy way of coping or not. Here are a couple of tips for keeping your inner control freak in check.
1) Remember what is in your control-the list is short. It's pretty simple actually. What can you control? Your thoughts, your words, your actions. You'll notice I didn't include feelings. Emotions are natural responses and you can not control how you feel but you can control how you deal with them. Another big one that we often attempt to control that doesn't belong? Other people. And that includes our children. We can give them positive modeling, emotional support, and life skills to succeed but ultimately their choices and behaviors are their own and not something we can control. This is helpful to remember when a sibling continues to act irresponsibly and you want to lecture them for the 63rd time or when your toddler is in the throes of a temper tantrum and you feel it must reflect on your parenting and therefore you must do something to fix it. Liberate yourself by putting responsibility back on other people and being there for support not to step in and fix things.
2). Scaling. I'm a big fan of the technique of scaling in my work. Using a scale of 1-10 for a variety of different things in life can give you a little bit more of an objective perspective on your feelings and problems. So when you feel a little out of control ask yourself, "On a scale of 1-10 how important is it to me that I have control in this situation?" You might find you are trying to control a situation or problem that isn't that important to you and you can take a step back. You can also ask yourself "On a scale of 1-10 how likely is it that I can actually exercise control in this situation?" Your answer may give you some rational thinking and perspective to pull back or figure out a way that you can exercise some control in a practical and rational way.
3.) Take stock of your coping skills. When things are out of our control we tend to compensate with finding ways to control elsewhere. Sometimes this can be a healthy control like cleaning our house or organizing something. Other times we can get obsessive to the point that our daily lives are impacted negatively or we attempt to control something that we cannot. Make sure you have a go-to list of some healthy coping skills you can use when you are having trouble letting go. My own personal favorites are making sure my dishes are done and having something to pour my nervous energy into like a blog or a personal project.
4.) Take a deep breath and focus on the moment. When you realize that you only have control of yourself in this particular moment it can be liberating to realize that there may be nothing you can do but notice what is going on around you at the time. You have no control of future moments, just this one. Try to notice minute details of the moment that will help draw your mind to what is going on in the present. What do you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell right now? What details can you notice about your current environment? Take notice of your breaths in and out. All you have control over right now is this particular moment--what can you do with it to help yourself feel calm and empowered?
Becoming a parent is a huge loss of control. We lose control over our schedules, some of our privileges, and over having a good understanding of what we are doing in life because let's face it-parenting includes a huge amount of uncertainty. Why is he crying? Why is he off schedule?Why isn't she walking yet? We are responsible for a human being but we can not fully control them. So when parenting is uncertain and you feel you've lost all control keep perspective and be brave for your child. Help them see that in a world of uncertainty you can take a deep breath and summon up courage to continue to try and achieve goals and enjoy your life. Uncertainty is the certainty. And remember, sometimes there are amazing things waiting in the unknown.