In my years as a youth minister, I have seen way too many mothers fail to control everything about their children. I’ve known mothers who choose their teens’ clothes, who email teachers to argue about their children’s failing grades, who practically chase their children out of their own homes with their need to control. I’ve also seen what happens to those kids- they become entitled, rebellious, or else completely incapable of making decisions for themselves. I’ve seen what control can do to a child, and I want something more for my own children.
As mothers, we want to protect our children. We want to wipe away their tears, sweep them into our comforting arms, shield them from the pains of the world. There is a lot that we as parents can do to ensure that our children grow up to be strong, healthy adults, but not everything is up to us. Here are 7 things it’s okay not to control about your kids.
1. Mental illness
More than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. One in 5 people will be diagnosed in any given year. Mental illness is common, and it is deeply biological. You could raise your children in the most loving, supportive household, and they might still suffer from anxiety or depression. If your child is one day diagnosed with some mental disorder, don’t blame yourself, and definitely don’t blame your child. Mental illness is just that- an illness of the mind- and as such, neither your nor your child is in control. You are in control of the quest for healing though.
2. Their mistakes
We all make mistakes. Even adults make mistakes from time to time, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our immature, inexperienced children make mistakes too. While you might not be able to prevent your kids from making mistakes, you can certainly work with your children to ensure that they learn from them. This might mean letting them take responsibility for their actions, or guiding them to fix the mistake that they made. That doesn’t mean doing it yourself.
3. Their sense of fashion
You do have some control over the type of clothing that your children wear, particularly if you buy it for them. If it’s your money being spent, you have every right to say “no” to a particular piece of clothing. But there’s a difference between saying “no” to something your child has picked out and picking out your children’s clothing yourself. Kids like to express themselves through their clothing, so let them. But as the parent, you can also lay down rules for what your child will wear while they are living in your house. Just be prudent about picking your battles.
4. Their friends and significant others
Friends are often made based on common interests. If you’re concerned about your child’s friends, consider where and how they are making them. You might not be able to completely break up a friendship or relationship, but you can set certain boundaries. Encourage your child to invite their friends and significant others over. My parents made our basement a cool place for us to hang out in high school, and we always had fiends over. It was the perfect arrangement- my parents didn’t bother us downstairs, but they knew exactly where we were and had a good idea of what we were doing. I felt trusted, and my parents felt better about us spending time with friends and significant others.
5. Their interests
Not every kid is going to be an athlete. Or a ballerina. Or an artist. Even if both spouses are athletic, you can still give birth to a child who hates sports. As your children mature, try to identify and encourage their natural talents. Even if you know nothing about their chosen interest, support them. You don’t need to play basketball to learn about it and attend your kid’s games. If what they are doing is good and is making them happy, then you should try to support them however you can. Even if you and your children share no common interests, the bond of love that unites you remains.
6. Their choices
Not all “bad” choices are necessarily mistakes. I left graduate school to discern the religious life, only to leave less than a year later. Was that a bad choice? I was not meant to be a religious sister, so in a sense, it was. Discerning religious life didn’t bring me any closer to actually getting married, after all. But was it a mistake? Not at all. Yes, in the long term, it was a bad choice for me, but I needed to make it. And I’m grateful that my parents supported me in that choice, even when they began to suspect that it was not the right choice for me. They let me learn the lessons I needed to learn, and then they supported me when I came home with just five outfits, about $50 to my name, and no idea of what I was going to do with my life.
7. Their emotions
This is one of the first lessons we learn as parents (though some of us might also learn that we can’t control our toddlers’ choices of clothing). We can’t control our children’s emotions. We might want them to feel a certain way, but kids are generally not good at hiding their true feelings. What we can do as parents is to teach our children to be respectful and kind. They don’t need to like something to smile and say “thank you.” But we need to be patient with our kids as they are learning what their emotions mean and how to handle them.