The Only Thing Parents Can (and Must) Control

Growing up I never thought of myself as a control-freak or knew very well it's emotional bedfellow, anger.  Sure, as a 10 year old I might've gone berserk on my neighborhood friends about the rules of Ghosts in the Graveyard or publicly berated my high school buddies at Burger King over the merits of Notre Dame football (and the demerits of Nebraska football, go Irish!).  But really, no one who knew me well would've described me as a kid with anger issues.  

Years passed, college came and went, and these occasional flareups of anger and control faded into the background (like the parachute pants I wore in the 80's), presumably never to be heard from again. 

Until I became a dad. 

Fatherhood has brought out the best in me, but also the worst.  How about you?

Think back to day one. The baby comes home and you can control virtually every aspect of their life (what they eat, what they wear, and where they lie down), except for one very important thing: when they sleep. 

So it begins. We as parents are confronted, immediately, by the fact that what our children choose to do is ultimately out of our control.  

As they get a little older and learn to walk and then to run, the stakes get a little higher. And as they get a little older and learn to say 'no', the stakes get even higher. 

At times, as a Dad, it feels like very little, if anything, is under my control. A house full of boys has a way of making this even more real. The holes in the walls (many), the broken windows (multiple), and the autographs in pen on the backseat of the van (Malachi) are all testimonies to the fact that I am not the only one with access to the nuclear launch codes.  Stuff happens in my house whether I authorize it or not. 

After watching my blood pressure skyrocket, vocal chords weaken, and the relationships with my sons suffer, I cried 'uncle'.  Something needed to change.  For many years I thought it was the boys that needed to shape up. After a lot of reading, prayer, soul searching, and a particularly powerful trip to confession I discovered it was actually someone else that needed the work: Me. 

Here's he truth that was staring me in the face all along: I can't control what my kids think, say or do, only how I respond to what they think, say, and do. I can't control them, I can only control me.  

Holy emotional bombshell, Batman.

When this realization sank in I experienced a deeper level of peace and freedom than ever before.

  • Freedom from the emotional tether that chained my highs and lows to my son's good and bad behavior.  
  • Peace from knowing that a storm of craziness could unfold around me, but I didn't have to respond in kind.  

So, as I learned to push the pause button between what my kids do and how I respond, I've noticed three amazing outcomes when I focus on self control (rather than the unattainable kid control): 

  1. Better consequences Have you ever been rash in doling out punishments for your kids, like canceling Christmas? That's how crazy it got one year, because my overreactions were having overreactions. A calm demeanor means I can stop and think and talk things over with my wife before a reasonable sentence is handed down.  
  2. Setting a more worthy example There is a far cry from being confident of the example you are setting in the face of adversity and the ongoing sadness and guilt of being an 'angry dad.'  Choosing my response rather than simply 'reacting' has afforded me this joy.
  3. Stronger father/son relationships Rather than immediately seeing my disgust and disappointment my sons are more likely to experience a dad that loves them no matter what sort of mess they've gotten themselves into. My hope is that they experience the difference between my disappointment with their choices and not my disappointment with them as human beings. 

If meekness can be defined as strength under control, I now see why this term described Jesus so well. He had all the power and strength a person could have, but channeled it to respond in the right way under the most extreme circumstances.  

  • Asking the Father to forgive his executioners.  
  • Confronting, in love, the men who accused the woman caught in adultery. 
  • Turning over tables when his Father's house was turned into a den of thieves.

This sounds a lot like what big strong dads are supposed to do. See the big picture, demonstrate patience, compassion, and mercy for the last and least, and only flex their muscles in the gravest of situations.  I'm not yet like Jesus, but I sure want to be. And the sooner I start acting like him, the sooner my boys might too. 

Question: What about you? What other benefits can you see for parents in putting a priority on self-control?