It Takes Self-Control to Lose Control
By Karen Kay
My 7-year-old son is doing the dishes. And I feel proud! Not of him, but of me. He’s loading the dishwasher while he runs back and forth between the sink and watching SpongeBob SquarePants on the TV. Suddenly he freezes. His eyes glaze over and suds drip from his fingers. I hiss his name, and he snaps to, skidding back to the sink — half running, half ice skating.
His awkward hold on the plates lets water slide onto the floor before he can reach the dishwasher. Everything in the dishwasher is in the wrong place. I can fit twice as many dishes in it when I load it properly. Yet, I’m letting him do it.
I’m not good at letting people do things, unless they do them the way I like them done. When I had my first baby I envisioned my husband and me as partners. And I really did want him to help change diapers, give baths, walk our son to sleep in the middle of the night and read him picture books.
But he didn’t like reading the books I kept handing him. At night I leapt out of bed before he had a chance to get up, convinced that the baby needed me to hold him. During bath time, I complained that my husband got water in our son’s eyes while rinsing his hair. And he shouldn’t clean the umbilical stub like that; he should do it like this. And I said, “Don’t put that cream on his rash, this one works better.”
And on and on: Not like that, like this.
I eventually drove my husband into hiding. Perhaps I undercut his confidence. More likely, I drove him crazy. Soon all things concerning baby were my responsibility, and I resented it. Where was my partner? Why should I have to do all of this myself? He had some nerve!
Eventually the tension led me to realize that I had sabotaged my most important means of help and support. After much coaxing and consistently backing off when he did participate, my husband is back in the game. I’ve learned to compliment his efforts and make him feel appreciated. Not only has our relationship improved when I released some control, but also my relationship with our children as well.
Now I let my son make a mess of my kitchen as he “cleans” it. He’s enjoying himself, even earning a small allowance. I will not rearrange the dishwasher, even though I want to badly. I don’t want him to see me re-do what he has bothered to really try and do. Why undermine that fledgling feeling of accomplishment?
The drain is full of food. He’s dancing wildly in front of the cartoon credits. As I lean over to empty the stopper, I step into a cold puddle of water with my dry socks. “Did I do a good job Mommy?” he asks. I suck in my breath and ignore my impulse to snap something about why we have towels and say, “It looks great!”
Karen Kay is a full-time homemaker with three children. With a master’s degree in English, she’s worked as a high school educator, adjunct college professor and freelance writer.