I can’t control my children’s behavior.
I’ve been getting nudged toward this conclusion from several directions this week. So I’ll give in. I admit it. I can’t control my children’s behavior. I can’t force them to do anything, not without violating my ethics and their persons.
There are certain things I’m not willing to do. If I did them, it would almost certainly change behaviors, but they would also have unwanted side effects. Spankings, placing them in the government schools, taking away everything they own, rigidly scheduling their day, watching everything they do, all of these would have an effect, but they all come with issues I don’t want to deal with. Ultimately, my children are independent human beings. I can’t control what they do, and the older they get the less control I have over their environment.
There are obligations I have toward my children. I am obliged to make sure they have shelter, food, and clothing. I am obliged to make sure they learn how to get along with others, how to care for themselves, how to learn new things when they need or want to. Legally, I am obliged to make sure they learn the basics of a high-school education before they leave my house. All of this I can do without controlling their behavior. I buy clothes, I cook food and present it to them, I provide boundaries and supervision as needed.
There are things I would like to give my children. I would like to give them the gift of never having to live with roaches simply because they don’t understand cleaning. I would like to give them the gift of a wide base of knowledge to take with them when they leave home, a basic understanding of all the subjects so that they can be prepared to investigate and learn and understand new ideas. I would like to give them comfort with and knowledge of their own bodies, so they can always be in charge of their health. I would like to give them the gift of financial aptitude, so that they will understand the dangers of credit and debt and never fall for them out of naivete. All of this amounts to wanting to force them to learn a lot of life lessons now, earlier than I did, while they are still at home and I can still pick them up when they fall.
This is what I can’t do. I can provide them with the materials. I can’t force them to pull the information into their heads and integrate it. I can provide them with incentives to do chores and schoolwork, but I can’t flip a switch and force them to go through the motions.
With Kender, I have learned that I can’t guide him through activities. I have to wait and watch, and look for indications that he might be interested in or ready for something, and then I have to place it in front of him right then and let him go. In other words, I can control his environment, but I can’t control him.
When it comes right down to it, that’s all I can do for any of my kids. By accepting this, I remove myself from yelling and fussing. I remove myself from always seeing the things they don’t or won’t do. Instead, I invited myself to see things from their view, to find the things they want to do and facilitate them, to find out what really motivates them and make use of it. I can stop fighting to mold them into creatures that respond the way I expected, and I can start learning how and why they do respond.
It’s the difference between using spurs and a whip, and being the horse whisperer. I think I want to go for the latter. It may mean I can’t give them all the gifts I want, but I will be able to give them what they need, and we’ll all be happier in the meantime.