Out of my Mindfulness: Learning to let go of things out of our control

Out of my Mindfulness: Learning to let go of things out of our control
Metro Graphics Photo Illustration

Mother’s Day this year was truly sweet, and I was able to enjoy some time NOT caregiving for my family. In the quiet stillness, I was able to reflect on this day that can hold so many contradictory feelings. For me, this special day used to be littered with so many “shoulds” it created resentment, and then I felt guilt that I was not just feeling pure unadulterated gratitude every moment of motherhood.

Out of my Mindfulness: Learning to let go of things out of our control
Kristine Petterson

This year, I asked for time away and space to rest. I considered some of the reasons joy and ease have been so hard to access for me. Not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

The only person you can control is yourself

One of the most beautiful gifts mindful parenting has given me is to stop spending my time and energy trying to control the thoughts, opinions, beliefs and especially not the actions of others. I spent most of my life laughing in the face of anyone who would say things like “Go with the flow,” as I went right along and tried to forcibly shift the course of whatever river I was involved in damming. When someone reminded the old me that there are just some things I can’t control, I would take it on like a bet. I manipulate and twist myself right into all the places I didn’t belong trying to change the outcome of events going on around me.

I know now that this was a trauma response, and my efforts to control the people and situations around me was my attempt to feel safe. I also know that life is so much easier when I can stand back, take a deep breath and allow space for the messiness and mistakes of our human existence to unfold. When I was hyperfocused on preventing what I saw as problems in the world, I didn’t have much energy to take responsibility for my own. It’s difficult work to turn my time and attention toward myself, to look at the beliefs and opinions I am fostering. When I turned my efforts inward, I learned to be careful with my own words and consider my responses instead of just reacting.

Try to notice your controlling behaviors. Do you interrupt? Are you jealous? Give advice? Do you “should” on others and yourself?

Be present

Here’s the really cool thing about letting go of my need to control: If I'm not spending all my time and energy micromanaging others, I have so much more to give. I’ve made a concerted effort to stop controlling or correcting words from coming out of my mouth during our morning transition to the car, at mealtimes and during bedtime routines. This means I now have the time and energy to show up for myself and others with the desire to see them and connect instead of finding things to fix or criticize.

Try finding times during the day to focus your energy on real connection. Examples might include:

  1. A morning gratitude practice.
  2. Mealtime sharing about the best/funniest/hardest/loudest time of day.
  3. Bedtime questions like, “What’s one thing you want me to know before we put away the day?”

Comparison isn’t making you a better parent

My old self used to spend a lot of time cataloging my faults and where I was lacking. Other parents made it look so easy, and I was just falling short all the time. Why were my kids the only ones throwing tantrums on the floor at the grocery store? How come we could never get out the door without a “bunchy sock”-related fit of rage? What did other parents say to their kids to make them eat their vegetables?

Comparing myself to other parents said less about the families I was envious of (I’m sure they have their own struggles) and more about my lack of confidence and feelings of failure as a parent. I practiced identifying when I was going down a comparison spiral so I could stop it and bring in some actual facts instead of assuming that “perfect” families had it all together without doing any work.

Try speaking confidence to yourself: “You’re a dedicated mom.” “You’re working hard to build safe and fun relationships with your family.” “You’re free to learn from your mistakes.”

If you want cooperation, connection is key

This is true for kids, but I’ve also found it works for many people with whom I’d love to have a better working relationship: my husband, child care providers, clients and even my own parents. Your kiddos want to be part of a team; they want to cooperate and make their home a better place. It may seem hard to believe, but it’s true. When they feel valued, recognized and truly seen, toddlers, kids and teens will step up to the plate in incredible ways.

Try saying a specific thank you: “You make our house a better place when you … ,” or “You make our family stronger when you … .”

Petterson lives in Moscow with her husband and their two children. She left public education to become a yoga instructor, sleep specialist and mindful parenting educator. She can be contacted via her website at www.kristinepetterson.com.