I should have expected that having children would be a study in the human need for control. Our training for foster care on trust-based relational intervention (TBRI), which K and I found very helpful, made sure that we understood that there would be issues of control and authority in raising children (how could there not be?). That said, the intellectual knowledge of the thing and the experience are two things separated by a sometimes expansive gulf.
And so, it should have been no surprise that I’d have to spend some time thinking about my own need for control—both in the microcosm of my relationships with my children and in regards to life in general.
We are not allowed to withhold food from the children as a tool of compliance or discipline—nor do I think that doing so would be constructive, effective or beneficial. But that doesn’t stop food from sometimes being a struggle. There are very few things that we’ve discovered that Bess doesn’t like to eat, which is a blessing in and of itself. Sometimes though, she tells us that she wants one thing and then changes her mind, or gets served something we know she likes and she demands something else. This sort of a struggle is frustrating, to say the least.
There are some things we don’t make available to Bess—we don’t give her soda (she came to us already familiar with drinking straight from the can) and we very much limit her access to sweets (making me quite a hypocrite given my own sweet tooth, but it’s a hypocrisy I can live with). Otherwise, when she’s hungry we feed her and she gets to eat until she’s full. We serve her a lot of fruit, yogurt, milk, cheese and other things, and now that she’s settled in a bit more we’re trying to focus the offerings to be as healthy as possible. But sometimes, she just wants Goldfish, and nothing else will do.
At times like this, my initial instinct is to refuse her. I took the time to make her something else to eat, and she ought to eat that, dammit! Both the training we received and common sense dictate that this is not a fight worth having. So why do I feel a need to “win” that fight rather than avoiding it altogether?
Concerned about my own parenting skills, I started reflecting on this. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about my own need for a semblance of control. Suddenly adding two kids to the picture has thrown everything in disarray—my schedule revolves around them and I have somehow to find the time to make a living and get some writing done. There’s not a great sense of control in my life overall at this juncture—though is there anything but an illusion of control in our lives ever, really?
I think that my desire to win arguments rather than focusing on the important stuff is about me trying to work out my own issues. Our parenting class instructor was wise to tell us to be on the lookout for exactly this sort of thing.
Perhaps above all, I tend to think of myself as someone who is more self-aware than most and, to a great degree, in control of himself to the extent that one can be. This experience has given me doubts about that self-conception.
At the end of the day, though, if I don’t learn from these experiences, I will certainly never have the kind of self-control I think that I do. So, I’m trying (“trying” being the operative word) to get over myself. If it’s not a matter of health and safety or some other significant issue, there’s not much reason for me to fight with Bess about it. Especially not so that I can feel I have some tiny amount of control in my life—there’s simply no there there (to borrow from Gertrude Stein).
When she wants to put on her own shoes, fine. When she wants things a certain way, we can do that. And when all she wants to eat is Goldfish—provided she’s generally still eating healthy—I’m just gonna give her the damn Goldfish. We’ll all be better for it, I think.