I am learning to give up control. It’s a work in progress – heck, at 37, I’m a work in progress. Before becoming a parent, I was used to being in control (or at least having the illusion of it). It’s very easy to become fixated on what we need to do, where we need to be, and what time it is; to focus on our own agenda with an intense kind of tunnel vision.
The irony is that this is precisely the behaviour that drives us crazy in our kids. When they don’t answer us because they are absorbed in what they are doing, whether it’s building a high chair for Black Bear out of boxes and sticky tape, or making a card for the beloved prep teacher. Or when we ask them to do something, like get dressed, hang the towel on the towel rail, eat breakfast, or tidy their rooms, and half an hour later we find them right where we left them, absorbed in something which is NOT what we asked them to do. The truth is that this is a two way street. We get frustrated with them for not prioritising what we see as important, while they are frustrated with us for not understanding their priorities! Why should they acknowledge our agenda when we refuse to make room for theirs?
Giving up control is really, really hard. Even when I learn to do it, I find myself reverting to type time and time again, getting back into that rut, seeing straight down the tunnel and missing the panorama that’s visible if I could only turn my head. Life is like that. In reality we have deadlines, we have worries, things we need to do, places we need to be. We’re tired, we’re sick, we just want to get things done and have a chance to rest. Successful people have drive, they get things done, they motor through problems and forge ahead. They soldier on. We’ve been trained all our lives to be in thrall to these pressures. Stopping and smelling the roses is a romantic notion with no place in modern life. As for stopping to finger the slugs…
Children, though, don’t naturally work that way. At least, not in response to an external agenda. Kids have agendas of their own. They are “in the moment” in a way that most adults have forgotten how to be. They are free to stop to admire the sunrise while we are grumbling at being awake to see it. They can stop to inspect a flower or wave to a pigeon. They examine every pebble and count every blade of grass. We label this, and other playful, exploratory behaviour, “mucking around”. We sometimes think of it as trivial at best, and deliberately unhelpful at worst. We become frustrated and angry, ready to scream “Come ON! Or we’ll never get there!” What we forget is that we are there. This stuff is important. This is how kids learn about the world. They explore, they play, they build things, they tell stories. What we need to learn to do is to stop thinking of these games as obstacles, and start to see them as the point of life.