Most people want to be in control. They desire to be in control of a situation, their job, their spouse, their children, but what happens when we lose control in unpredictable situations? Think of an airplane that is late leaving? Some people are cool, calm and collect when things change…but most are not. Let’s just call me the second one, the one who doesn’t handle it well when plans change.
When I must deviate from the plan I immediately become stressed out. I start thinking of all the things this abrupt change will impact and therefore sometimes I panic. I like to be in control. A few months ago my husband and I adopted a teenage boy from foster care. The process was really hard for me because almost everything about the process was out of my control. If I had it my way I would have marched in the courthouse and demand that they sign the papers instead of letting them sit for 6 weeks on their desk, BUT it does not work that way in foster care.
One day, after the adoption, my son lied to us…over and over again. He dug himself in a deep hole over brushing his teeth. Now he has been told that in our house we do not lie. If you forgot the task, then just go do the task and move one. There is no punishment if you initially make a mistake, just don't lie about it. None of us are perfect, we forget things, just be truthful. In the end, when he finally admitted he lied several times he was told his punishment. To say he was mad is an understatement.
He was mad at us for punishing him but he was even more angry with himself for lying. After several conversations, he explained that lying was a way of control for him in the past. He lied to prevent actions that may have occurred as a means to take control of his life. I found this very intriguing the more he explained.
He explained how he has never had control. No control over where he lived, if his birth father was around, whether or not he was in foster care, when he saw his brothers, when he moved homes or what school he attended. He had no control over his environment, so he took control… he lied and had extreme behaviors until the family would kick him out. If he was in a home he liked he behaved for the most part. He still tested their patience and was a chatterbox, but overall was a good kid.
He explained how some my house rules didn’t allow him to have control. So rather than get in a power struggle, we talked about it. I knew he hated brushing his teeth when he got up, he lied about it often, but I did not know it was because he hated how it made breakfast taste. After talking we agreed he could do it after he ate. It is not what I do, but I had to accept that different routines are okay. Now, he doesn’t lie to us about it because he gets to do it when he wants to, after breakfast. Through this process of giving him control I have become more intentional to give him choices. Since he hates to shop, I buy him several shirts and tell him he can pick 2, or reject them all and I will shop again. It avoids an argument instead of me just buying the 2 I like and telling him what to wear.
In MAPPs class they tell you to let the kids pick their bedding and backpack so they have some choice. That to me was not hard but taking it a step further wasn’t something I had really thought through. He is a teenager, he needs to gain control to learn how to make decisions. Changing these little things with him has given him a sense of self-confidence I had not seen in him before.
So as a parent, I lost some control, but it was more important that my loss became my child’s gain. It taught him to compromise instead of arguing and for me to let go. These kids come from hard places where all they have seen is the results of bad decisions. Part of our job is to help them learn how to make good decisions and give them some control of their life.