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  • Writer's pictureBethany Huebner

When I got slapped in the face by “Mama Bear”

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

“You have two choices…a good choice and a bad choice. Your good choice is to let it go, your bad choice is to hold it in. Which will it be?” I said.

Blank stare from my 3-year-old…that continues for what seems for days.

If you are a parent, you have been here. If you are a teacher, you have been here. If you are neither…just wait, you will be here too. The impasse of power. The struggle to decide who has control.

I repeat my question. My 3-year-old becomes distracted by the polka-dots on my pajama bottoms and begins tracing them.

We have been in a major potty-training battle for the past 8 weeks. This is not your typical potty-training battle where your little one is first learning and your house, car, restaurants, etc. all become accident city and you carry around three sets of clothing everywhere you go. No, this is the battle of who is in control. My 3-year-old knows how to go on the potty, he knows and understands the urges of needing to go the bathroom, he even knows how to wash his hands after he is done. He just doesn’t want to do any of that. He would rather be in wet clothing and have abdominal pain then take care of his business. Why? Why would a seemingly reasonable 3-year-old (if there ever was such a thing…) fight everything that is logical and good for him? Control. He has figured out a secret that his previous three years he didn’t understand…he has control.

When a baby is born, they are entirely dependent on someone else for their needs. As they grow older, they begin to learn skills and can begin to become more independent. This is a good thing (I think), but the struggle of realizing that you aren’t fully independent when you are 3 is a REAL-BIG-DEAL. When you get the taste of a little bit of control, you can’t go back. “I do it by myself, Mommy!” he says. Even though most things he still cannot do by himself. He also has learned that his behavior can control someone else’s emotions.

That’s where the slap in the face from the “Mama Bear” in me comes in…I finally realized today that I am being controlled. His behavior has a direct path to my emotions. His seemingly purposeful refusal to follow directions and complete tasks that he has demonstrated he can complete frustrates me beyond my breaking point at least 6 times a day(it may be upwards of 42 times a day…I stop counting after 6). I don’t actually have control over any of that because that is his behavior. He has control over his behavior…I have influence. I have influence over what choices he should make with his behavior through instruction, correction, and discipline; but, at the end of the day, he has the control over his behavior.

What do I have control over? My behavior…my emotions. BAM!!! There was that slap in the face again…Me acting like a crazy person worrying about all the what ifs and catering to his every whim when he begins to show some signs of compliance (“Mommy, I need to go potty.” I quickly shuffle him to the bathroom, pull down his pants, help him sit on the potty. “Well, mommy, I don’t actually have to go.” Face Palm) had me blinded from the truth.

This power struggle reminded me that this concept can be applied to more than just parenting. Have you ever found yourself in a power struggle with a student, a classmate, a coworker or friend? I want to do what I want to do…the other person wants to do it their way. Both ways can be completely right, but from each vantage point the other person is wrong. As a struggling perfectionist…letting things go is not my strong suite. Letting others be in control is not my strong suite. Having an innate need to control the situation and orchestrate the perfect ending is my default setting. But, it is not who I am working to be. I’m working to change my default setting and I want to model that process for my son. God has created me with gifts that include attention to detail and striving towards achievement, but those strengths do not have to turn into weaknesses. I have two choices…Let it go or Hold it in.

Letting it go

This means that you can control what you can control…you. Let all the frustration and constant drag you are facing go away. Let the other person try it their way, let them control what they can control…themselves. They will sink or swim, but at the end of the day it is on them. Letting go doesn’t mean abandoning, no it actually means quite the opposite. My husband asked my son one of the most beautiful questions in the thick of this battle, “How can we help you achieve this goal?” Letting go means letting go of the fight, but you can still be there to influence, support and help when asked. Let them tell you how we can help…let them draw you in.

Holding it in

My son’s latest potty-training battle includes holding in his bowel movements for days until he is in pain. Holding it in actually has some pretty serious physical complications for him, but it hasn’t come to a point in which he can coordinate the symptoms to his choice. His choice of holding it in has me in a tailspin. I’m in pain trying to force him to have a bowel movement on demand. When we continue to orchestrate and push to gain control of another person’s behavior, we become resentful and stressed. We are in pain and the other person is in pain. We are hurt and our relationship with the other person is hurt. Holding it all in prevents everyone from growing. Holding it in builds up toxins that can be totally avoidable if we just chose to let it go.

My son’s potty-training is actually HIS problem, not mine. It is HIS to figure out and it is HIS to decide he wants to do it. He has the skills and knowledge of completing the task, I’m here to support him but not be sucked into his battle. Working with students and/or coworkers as leaders can be the very same situation. We can’t control other people or their choices. We can support them and influence them to a good decision, but at the end of the day it is their choice to choose.

We all have two choices when we find ourselves in situations of control. A good choice and a bad choice. Let it go or Hold it in. Which will you choose?

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1 Comment

Brad Huebner
Dec 02, 2019

I think the well respected Dr Claire Lewicki from the famous 1990's publication known as "The Days of Thunder" starring Tom Cruise, said it best. " Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac. Nobody knows what's gonna happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside our own bodies and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs.

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