I Just Want to Be In Control

Ever had a bedtime battle? Yeah, me too. It happened ALL the time at our house. And it made me crazy. One night, my son said he wanted to pick his own bedtime and followed up with this:

“I just want to be in control of my own life.” 

My knee-jerk response was, “Wouldn’t we all? You’re seven, kid, so you’re just going to have to deal with it.”

But, that day, I managed to hold it in and take a breath. I thought about how hard it must be for a little kid who has to go where the adults say, do what the adults say, when the adults say. I’m kind of a control freak myself. So, I totally get where he’s coming from. In fact, when I was his age, I was so anxious about things that were beyond my control that I would get bad stomach aches. So bad that there were many days where my stomach would get so upset as I worried that I’d throw up after lunch at school. I don’t want him to feel like that. So, I’m trying to remember what that was like and give him some control when I can.

I wanted to tell him, “Bedtime is bedtime and we’re sticking to it.” But, I took that breath. Instead of giving in to my own inner control freak, I forced out, “Well, we can talk about it. I’ll tell you why we chose this bedtime, then you tell me what you think would be a good bedtime and why that would be the best one.”

The bedtime that let both of us be "in control"
The bedtime that let both of us be “in control”

Then we had a real conversation about it. He listened. I listened. In the end, he actually decided that he wanted the same bedtime he’d always had. Isn’t that remarkable? I wasn’t expecting it. Turns out, once he heard the reasons for it and once he got to be the one choosing it, he was absolutely fine with it. And you know what? We haven’t had any bedtime battles since. I wish that all of our struggles were resolved so easily.

Frankly, kids are not always the most reasonable decision makers, so I don’t feel like we can always talk out our problems. But, now that I’ve seen what a difference it makes to him to have a little control of his own life, I’m working on it.

I’m trying not to get frustrated and start yelling when he’s digging in his heels and not cooperating.

I’m trying to remember that’s his way of getting some control back and that’s important to him, just like it is to me.

I’m trying to be less “It’s my way or the highway” and more “Let’s talk about it.”

I’m working on being a good listener and asking a lot of questions to get to the root of what my son’s struggles are. They are often so different from what I thought that they really surprise me. I try to tell him in clear ways what my struggles and reasons for my choices are, too, so he sees that I’m not just making up rules for the fun of it. Just like I’m often surprised by his issues, he’s often totally surprised by mine.

Once we see each other’s perspective a little bit, I ask him to come up with some solutions that take both our issues into consideration. I think it’s important that he come up with some ideas himself so that it’s not just me throwing out choices that he doesn’t like. If he’s struggling for ideas, I’ll give suggestions, but I try to let him be in the driver’s seat because if he comes up with it himself, he’s much more invested in making the plan work. I also try to throw in a plan for follow up. That doesn’t mean consequences, like “You have one week to get your act together or we’ll do X as punishment.” It’s more like, “Let’s give this a try for a few days. If it’s not working after three days, let’s talk about why we think it didn’t work and what else we could do.”

Doing all that is tough for me. It can feel kind of exhausting to approach problems together rather than simply telling my son how it’s going to be. Sometimes it wears me down and I feel like I’m in constant negotiations, because it’s not always as easy as our bedtime talk.

But, it’s also emotionally exhausting and draining to fight with your kid all the time. In the end, I’d rather feel drained from trying to work together than from unsuccessfully bossing him around. I’m hoping that by letting him be in control of some things, maybe he’ll become a better problem solver, a creative thinker, maybe even a little more empathetic when he learns to see the other side of the problem.

I don’t always get it right. But, I’m going to keep working on it. Working on being open to his ideas. Working on my listening skills. Most of all, working on my reserves of patience.


Laura is a mom of three who works full-time from home as a Development Director for a children’s charity. Laura grew up in Maryland, spent her 20s living in Southern California and South Carolina, and has spent her 30s and now 40s in Iowa, moving to Iowa City in 2010. Laura loves dancing, reading, baking, and music. She and her husband Ryan started dating in college (gasp – over 20 years ago!) and they have been sharing life’s adventures ever since. Their biggest adventure is, of course, parenthood. With three kids, the action is non-stop - which is just the way Laura likes it.



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