A message of hope to the “control freak” Mama

My sweet teenage daughter stood in my doorway at 10 pm. I was ready to rest, relax, and entertain my brain after a long day. Love story in hand, I was at peace. Then she dropped a bomb on me, “Mom, I just found out I had to be at the church tomorrow at 4 pm.”


I had already filled out my “To-do” list for the next day, and every time slot had something in it. Errands. Pay bills. Work in garden. Make dinner. Send emails. There was no entry that read, “Drive daughter 30 minutes across town at 4 pm.” My plans disrupted, I could feel all the muscles in my back begin to tense. There went relaxation.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever freaked out from a slight disruption to your plans? Do you have to keep a perfectly clean and orderly home in order to concentrate? Do you get upset at spills and messes and unplanned chaos? Do you have to do your children’s school projects for them?

Yep. Me too.

I was the queen of the control freak mamas. A clean freak, OCD, my time planned down to the last second, and neat and organized. Yep, that’s me.

Or rather, that was me.

Mama, if you find yourself constantly uptight, stressed, and controlling, I want to give you some hope. What I’ve found, after 20 years of parenting and with a currently empty nest, is that this controlling nature is just a reaction to our current out-of-control surroundings.  It is not who we are at our core.

I wasn’t always a control freak. I always had a bent towards clean and planned, but I didn’t hold on to it for dear life. When I was young, I was carefree, happy, and fun.

But imagine if you were standing all alone in a quiet place, and someone snuck up behind you and pushed you, disrupting your balance. Your arms would flail out to grab hold of something, keeping yourself from falling. You would reach out and grip whatever could be held on to in order to restore your balance and stability. You would hold on for dear life until your heart quit racing and your body felt back in control.

It’s the same when little ones come into our lives. We are thrilled to pieces, but life as we know it comes unhinged. We no longer are independent adults taking vacations and enjoying hobbies but suddenly crying pooping needy ones are fully dependent upon us for their well being. No longer are we free to grab coffee after work, but we have been transformed into burping feeding cleaning rocking and soothing mamas. For the next 18 years, or more. Our identity is suddenly transformed from carefree woman to full time mommy.

Peace is now chaos. Clean is now dirty. And try as we might, laundry is never caught up.

Is there joy? YES! We would not trade our littles for the world. But in the “jolt” of new motherhood, we feel out of control. Our equilibrium has been perturbed and we reach out to grab hold of something for balance. We feel out of control, so we latch on to something, anything, to regain control.

We control our surroundings. “Clean up this mess!” We control our time. “Mommy is having quiet time now – come back later.” We control our bodies. “Not tonight, honey” we tell our spouses. We seek to control anything and everything possible because we feel out of control. We try to cling to whatever is nearby as we hold on for dear life for 18 or more years.

I hated myself for being so rigid and controlling. Until, I realized that it wasn’t me, but was simply a response to my out-of-control life.

Once my 18-year-old daughter went off to college, something changed. Things that used to irritate me, like no one helping me empty the dish drainer, no longer did. Things that I used to care about, like the kitchen counters being wiped clean, no longer mattered. And while I still like a scheduled life, I don’t get as bent out of shape when there is a change.  Where there used to be rigid control, now there is a lot more peace.

I was not, at my core, a control freak. I was just responding to external stimuli by trying to control.

I don’t know if that realization will help you, but it helped me. The “control freak” label had to do with my identity, while understanding my response to being out of control described how I tried to survive. The “control freak” label described Lisa as a person, the explanation of why I tried to control described how Lisa acted when her life was turned upside down for 20 years.

Now that life has slowed and physical and emotional demands have lessened, I don’t hold as tightly to things. So if you are holding tightly to control, dear Mama, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s not who you are at your core. It’s just a survival mechanism. In time, your happy-go-lucky, carefree self will return. And, to help you enjoy it, you will have some new friends – your adult children.

Hang in there, Mom.  You’re doing a good job, and  you’re going to make if.

If I survived parenthood, anyone can.

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