IREAD self-help books, I admit it. They help me make sense of this madness we call life. They tell me what I want to hear, and some things I don’t. One of my favourite lines is: “You can’t control others, but you can control how you react to them.” It’s like the underlying message in ALL self-help books, hence the words “self” and “help”, I guess.
Now what does that have to do with parenting, you ask. A whole lot.
You can’t control your six-month-old from sleeping the whole day and waking up at night (well, according to some parenting books, you can), but you can think to yourself: she’s only going to be little just ONCE. So if she wakes up in the middle of the night wanting to play, just go with it. When she’s the writer learns a thing or two from self-help books, but her kids teach her more. 10, she might not even want to play with you anymore, night or day. So play now.
You can’t control other people from imposing their opinions on your child-rearing ways. What? You let her sleep with you in the same bed? It’s not healthy. What? She hasn’t learnt her times table yet? What are you thinking? Any four-year-old should know multiplication like the back of her hand. What? You are not feeding her milk powder pumped up with DHA and genius vitamins?
All of the above will always keep coming at you, at different times, in different contexts, by different people. You can get angry and try to glue their mouths shut, or you can choose to ignore or stay away from the naysayers.
You can’t control people from giving your kids chips and sweets, and by people I mean my husband, but you can covertly throw the junk out when no one is looking. There will be protests and crying afterwards, on his part, but he’ll get over it. This is where he should start reading my self-help books on how to control his reaction to my action, instead of blaming me. See? It works for everyone.
I hadn’t realised my kids pick up on it too. Apparently I have been spewing this magnanimous advice more often than I realise.
Because the other day, Angelica, my fiveyear-old who seems 30 sometimes, said to me: “Mummy, I want to eat two marshmallows after lunch. I know you don’t let me eat sweet stuff, but two is okay, right?” She shot a furtive look in my direction.
“Also, you always say, you can’t control what other people want to do, so you can’t control me if I want to eat marshmallows, right?” she continued.
I took a second to gather my thoughts. I needed to strategise.
“Yes, I said that, but do you know why I don’t want you to eat sweet stuff?”
“Yes, because it’s not good for me. But I like it. So you can’t control me.” Angelica, score one.
“I’m your mother and I can until you’re 30. When you’re 31, you can decide your own snacks.” Me, check and checkmate.
Then, there was that time when Angelica and Lauren, two, were fighting. In the heat of argument, Lauren hit her sister with a Barbie doll. It wasn’t a hard hit; she grazed her elbow with the doll’s head.
“Mummy!!!” Angelica protested, in full battle mode.
I asked Lauren to apologise to her sister, which was met with a petulant pout and tearing eyes. “No!”
“It’s okay, Mummy! You can’t control her. But I can control myself. So I’m going to take away her Barbie doll so that she cannot hit me anymore!”
Before a scuffle could ensue, and dolls were kidnapped, I decided to step in, although I had half a mind to see how it would play out. By now, Lauren was almost in tears, and Angelica was in her “taking control” mode.
Then my two-year-old pulled up to her full two feet and a bit, and said: “ Jia Jia (big sister) cannot take my Barbie, because it’s mine. I control my own dolly!”
So there you have it. All the self-help books in the world trumped by two pint-sized people! On control, these two mini-adults taught me that sometimes, I just have to step back and stop mothering them, because they are perfectly capable of fighting their own battles.
Also, try as I might to protect them from all the evils (and marshmallows of the world), they have great minds of their own, and all I can do is equip those minds with the right tools to make their own decisions at age 31 or less. n Elaine Dong has perfect self-control most of the time and blogs at www.angelolli.com.