Con­trol freak

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - ELAINE DONG star2@thes­tar.com.my

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.

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