I’ve always been a planner, a list maker, an anticipator. For me, these things are coping mechanisms to fend off the anxiety of change and the unknown. They can, in fact, be very useful tools for an unchill, scatter brained, anxiety prone gal like me, but they can also reinforce an inflexible mindset and the tunnel vision that comes with being focused only on the future.
The first time someone suggested that my level of control was limited, I handled it with beautiful grace. That’s a lie. I’m pretty sure I thought something like, Oh, I can’t change the future with excessive worrying and by exerting my fierce control over life and everything in it? Hold my beer. Just kidding, I don’t drink beer. Still, I’m guessing that my efforts to strong arm life in my chosen direction left me looking approximately as composed as the guy who has yet to realize that his one too many was about six beers ago. It didn’t stop me from trying though.
Control. Ugh, control. It made me feel strong. It made me feel powerful, worthy, and less vulnerable. Until it didn’t. Until I was worn out and frayed and discouraged. Until I was tired and defeated because nobody would listen to the orders I barked and the plan I’d laid out. Until people I loved got sick for no good reason and we were staring down my husband’s second military deployment and there were more bills than there was money. I thought that tightening the grip and pushing forward would finally accomplish all the things, until the moment when I realized that perhaps someone bigger than me was in charge.
You still think this is just about me, don’t you? You think you have more control than that, right? Okay, grab a piece of paper- a post it note will probably do- and take inventory of all the things you have complete control over. I’ll go first.
- My behavior.
Was your list longer? Mine used to be, as well. Let me explain why my list is so short these days.
I used to think I had control over my child, but that just couldn’t be further from the truth. I have control over my behavior toward my child. How I speak to, set boundaries for, discipline, feed, and love her? That’s all on me. How she receives my words, accepts or challenges my boundaries, reacts to discipline, eats the food, and engages in loving relationship? That’s hers. I can model for her, lead by example, stand firm, and hope for the best. That’s mine. The rest? It’s hers. From the tiniest baby to the grown children with families of their own-- children have control over their own behavior. If you want complete control over your children, may I kindly suggest you look into a robot baby? If you’re sure you’d rather parent human babies, you might benefit from knowing that you only have control over your own behavior.
I used to think I had control in my marriage, but obviously I am only one half of the marriage. I am 50% of the whole. We are in this together. I have control over me, how I behave, what I give to the relationship, and how I respond to my husband. He has control over how he behaves, what he gives to the relationship, and how he responds to me as his wife. There is freedom, intimacy, and safety in this understanding that simply cannot be wrangled through control.
What else do you have on your list?
Your health? Yes, you have control over what you put in your body, how you exercise, and maybe even the environment in which you live. And still, perfectly responsible people get sick every day. And every single person in the history of ever has aged. You have control over your behavior. That’s it.
Your time? There are only so many hours in the day, you cannot change that. You only get to choose what you do with those hours.
We could keep going here, but I think you get the point. You have control over your behavior-- what you put into any life situation or relationship. That’s it.
Once I recognized that my realm of control begins and ends with me, I realized that I had been wasting time and energy trying to manage, steer, and point life to that arbitrary “better” place in the future. And. I. Was. Over. It.
Enough. I’m tired of white knuckling the steering wheel. I want to enjoy the ride. The memories in the rear-view mirror are treasured and the horizon ahead is full of hope. I’m glad for both places. I still learn from my past and I actively prepare for my future, but when I take the time to notice, I find that the ground beneath my feet is pretty flipping wonderful and I’m so happy to be standing right here in the place between the past and the future. My people are here with me and, with any luck, my daughter will live life learning that in the moment is a pretty great place to be.
I am happily living smack dab in the middle of this beautiful, messy, in between place. Care to join me?