But I Don’t Even Want to Control You. Do I?

I’ve been storing up examples of Rory’s need for control, in part to prove to myself that I’m not imagining things, and to gain, of course, additional verification that she is trying to drive me crazy:

1. In a restaurant, I ordered her chicken fingers, and she pitched a fit. “I not want you do that! What they got?” Um, chicken fried steak, meatloaf, smoked chicken and chicken fingers. That’s it. That’s the kind of restaurant it is (and one, I might add, she’s been to BEFORE). Oh, the fury. Oh, the angst. Oh, the tiny, angry voice declaring “I want chicken fingers.”

2. Same night, mad at me about something else, she refused to get out of the car on the side I’d opened for her, the side she was sitting on, but walked over and opened up the other car door.

3. Bathroom, airport. Upset that I washed Wyatt’s hands first and not hers. (He’d just barfed.) Goes to first towel dispenser. It won’t work for her. Second one is empty. Third, empty too. I wave my hand under the first one and get it to give up a towel–and she heads for the hated air dryers.

4. Same airport: walks in front, always, always, always. Can’t wait to go through security. Can’t wait to go down jetway. I finally had to physically put her behind me and say, in so many words, today you have to do it my way. Just today, just once, just now, with me and you and three other kids and no other adults, you have to do what I say the way I say to do it.

I could go on, I could list about ten other things from today alone. Do you want some water? No, MILK. You stand here. No, not there. HERE.

I have worked so, so hard to let go of this. To convince myself that some of the time I have to just let her cut off her nose to spite her face (like at the candy store, when she chose the smallest possible thing just to avoid choosing anything I suggested). I’ve worked to stop suggesting. I give her the range of drink choices every time, even when I know she wants Sprite. I wait, and wait, and wait for her to get the automatic towel dispenser to work, and I let her walk her requisite ten feet in front unless it’s totally and completely unsafe to do it. I back off, I swear I do.

And as I back off, it’s better. She’ll wear what I suggest when it’s important (which isn’t often). Accept the Sprite when, for whatever reason, I really had to make the choice for her. I suspect she’s worked hard, too, to understand that I’m not trying to mess with her sense of self. We get this delicate balance going.

But it still makes me crazy. I’m all tense and wrought up, just writing about it. I know I haven’t really let it go, which makes me wonder: maybe my motives aren’t so pure as I make out.

Oh, sure, when I’m trying to get her barfing little brother out of the airport, I think we can concede that I’m right to just make her USE THE PAPER TOWEL I HAVE. But I make a bigger deal of it that I need to, dwell on it more than I should. Look at me, my whole demeanor seems to cry at that moment, and when I relate the story afterwards, look what I have to put up with!

The fact is, I’m caught in a power struggle with a five-year-old, and it’s one I need to let myself lose. Or maybe one I need to find a totally different way to win. Do I really care which side of the car she gets out on? What she orders to drink in a restaurant? Which paper towel dispenser she uses? No. But maybe I feel like her rejection of my choices for her is her rejection of me. Telling other people, worrying about it, arguing with myself—is this my way of saying no, wait, I’m right! She shouldn’t push this, or me, aside!

But she’s not rejecting me, not at all. In fact, I’d argue that these moments of control come when she’s worried that I’m rejecting her, for the most part. When I’ve sat next to another kid, or am lavishing sudden attention on him at a moment when she’d accepted that no one was going to get much attention (that would be when you barf at the airport). What I want to control isn’t what she drinks or who orders it (if that were the issue, we would not be talking Sprite!). It’s how she feels about what she drinks or who orders it. I want her to roll with the punches, here, and she’s not ready to do that. If there’s a sudden change, an unexpected turn of events or a disappointment, she still needs to seize control any way she can. Trying to yank that control back out of her hands clearly isn’t the answer. I’m not exactly sure what is. Maybe I’m the one who needs to roll with the punches until I figure it out.

Cross-posted on RaisingDevils.com

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