I didn’t realize how much of a control freak I am until I became a parent. It’s not the easiest thing to see in yourself, unless you have somebody else’s parenting style to compare it to – or somebody to point it out to you. In my husband I have a little of both. (Wink. Eye roll. LOL.)
But it’s OK. I might not be that quick to admit this in his presence, but my way is not always the best way.
We have three sons ages 3 and younger and my way is usually trying to control as many variables as possible to keep a handle on the chaos. His way is a lot more laid back.
Picture three little boys, one 3 and twins who are 18 months, scampering around in three directions. You’re outside among heights and hard surfaces. Or you’re inside where attempts at childproofing keep getting exposed by devious little hands (or you live in a split level house with stairs you’ve yet to figure out. ) Little crazy, right?
I’m the parent who tends to let the freewheeling go on for a few minutes, then I’ll shut it down. About the time my blood pressure starts rising, I’ll get one, two or all three gated or buckled or both and then I’ll breathe.
My husband? If babies are buckled, he sees sad eyes. He’s liable to let somebody loose before Mommy can say “I’ll be right back.” Needless to say, my boys adore him. If there’s a choice between Mommy and Daddy in the late afternoons after he gets home from work, it’s a no-brainer.
Weekends, when Daddy is off, can be downright adventurous. While I hold my breath (or grit my teeth) Daddy has been known to let boys scale walls and climb rocks and slosh through puddles without boots or a raincoat.
He believes our boys need to explore their own boundaries, to take risks and learn the value of fear – instead of us making all the decisions for them and trying to take all fear out of the equation.
He sent me this article from Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201404/risky-play-why-children-love-it-and-need-it), and I think about it a lot.
One of the points raised reads: “Over the past 60 years we have witnessed, in our culture, a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play freely, without adult control, and especially in their opportunities to play in risky ways. Over the same 60 years we have also witnessed a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic increase in all sorts of childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.
I get it. I understand what they’re saying. But then I get in the moment, and I flinch.
I chalk it off to motherly instincts. The will to protect is strong. You don’t carry these little fellas inside of you for nine months and then take kindly to harm’s way. But I also know there’s a reason children are born to two parents, one male and one female (at least biologically.) At the risk of sounding sexist (apologies, if so) I see the value in men playing a big role in raising boys. Watching my husband with our boys is one of the true joys of my life. And I know he can teach them things that I can’t, and toughness is just one of them. They’re going to need all of that to grow into strong and good men.
I realize the best way for me to let it happen is to get out of the way, to let go and let Dad.
Sometimes that means literally closing my eyes or turning away from something scary. I know it doesn’t look good if my husband catches me, but it’s my coping mechanism. The urge to grab and protect is real.
Luckily nothing bad has happened. There have been scrapes and bruises on Daddy’s watch, but just as many if not more on mine. Sometimes they happen when both of us are standing right there, watching (or not) the proverbial volleyball drop on the court between us.
I know the stakes are only going to get higher from here, long after the baby gates and high chairs are gone. Letting go is going to have to become a discipline if a) we raise our boys well and b) we keep a healthy marriage.
Lately I’ve tested the boundaries a little bit myself. Don’t tell my husband (or the pediatrician), but sometimes when I’m alone with all three boys, I’ll roll the dice. I‘ll walk away from one twin climbing on our swing set to rush over and put another in a swing, all while assuming the 3-year-old is roaming safely nearby. I’ve even held my breath on myself. So far so good.
In some ways it’s actually liberating not to hold on so tight. I’m gaining a little confidence, letting some of my own anxieties go, and not trapping my boys indoors on 70 degree days.
Luckily my husband and I share similar values when it comes to childrearing. And he gives me a lot of leeway. Normally I’m the one who reads the books or articles, talks to the pediatrician or the child psychologist and formulates a plan. More often than not, I take the lead and he backs me up. But I know that’s not always going to be the case, nor should it.
I have a good friend who’s a twin mom, and I love getting advice from her because she says what’s on her mind and not just what I want to hear. She reminded me over dinner recently that I should embrace it when my husband does things his own way. There’s value in more than one way.
Control freaks can’t always see that. Reformed ones are working on it.