On Control

My friend Angela is, above all things, whip-smart and super funny. She and I once had a tumultuous fall together where we figured out how to run a non-profit by doing it and occasionally cried.

Dear Angela,

I’m thinking of YOU for a Mom & Not Mom. I know you have talked about working on not being a control freak. Have you “fixed” it (LOL), or might you have strategies that work? Basically, I’m thinking a lot about how being impatient and a control freak make me VERY ill-suited to parenthood.

And I’m wondering if you have advice.

Also, how are you?

Love,
Amy

You terrify me with this assessment, because I ALREADY KNOW that it makes me ill-suited for parenthood, and you just confirmed what I hoped was B.S.

Yes. I will write something. Do I just start now and send you an email?

— (one hour later)

Dear Amy,

A long time ago I used “noiamnotacontrolfreak” as an internet handle, because my propensity for control freakiness was, at least in my mind, my dominant personality trait. Side note: someone told me that due to character limits my name showed up as “noiamnotaco” in his inbox. I stand by that statement as well. I am no taco.

I consider my need to control everything a Great Flaw, but one that has served me well as a Business Woman Who is Not a Mother. Being a control freak means you get shit done, and you get it done the way you want it done. Not because you have deadlines, or funding, or ample resources. Because your brain will collapse on itself like a dying star if there is any outcome other than “done to my satisfaction.”

Since the internet is forever, here is a non-work-related example: my husband asked me to marry him on April 17, 2013. We both wanted a fall wedding, and I had just lost a bunch of weight. However, we had also just purchased a house and were not flush with cash (you may know that we are not independently wealthy). I wanted to get married in six months because I also wanted to have my current body on my wedding day, and didn’t know whether I was going to keep the weight off — weight seems to be one of the things I cannot control, but I digress. He was (rightfully) concerned about our lack of dough, but…

Get married in six months with not a lot of money? Please. That’s not even a challenge. We collected and cut wine bottles for almost-free centerpieces; put Mom to work in a sweatshop making jewelry, purses, table linens, hanging backdrops, etc.; designed, printed, and spent hours cutting programs, name cards, and schedules; and begged and borrowed so.many.things. My string quartet performed for the price of dinner, as did the bagpiper and officiant. I became so obsessed with a gown for which I would in NO WAY pay retail, that I scoured the internet until I found it (unworn) for a fraction of the cost on idonowidont.com, then DROVE TO INDIANA to try it on before agreeing to purchase it for pennies on the dollar.

And we truly had the wedding of our dreams. But you know what almost gave me an aneurysm? Those effing trees. Most of the reason we wanted to get married in the fall was to have an outdoor wedding with the beautiful colors around us.

October 12, 2012 (a year before, for those bad at years) was PEAK color at our house. I know this because we had our housewarming party on October 5, 2012, and the following weekend we looked at the foliage and said, “Damn, this would have been a much better weekend.” So we picked October 12, 2013 and assumed that if it wasn’t peak, it would be close.

But alas, the weather of 2013 was total insanity. On October 8, 2013 nary a leaf was yellow, red, or orange. In the days leading up to the wedding I just sat and stared out the window for hours, furious at those damn trees. I could barely think of anything else. I LITERALLY Googled whether putting pounds of ice around the base of a tree would coax it into giving up its chlorophyl. My poor husband-to-be said, “Honey, you can’t let this ruin our wedding.” I mean, he actually thought that the fact that I obviously cannot control nature would ruin my experience of becoming his wife. SADFACE. Super sadface. For the record, my response was, “I won’t. But I’m going to let it ruin tonight, okay?” I needed at least a night of hate.

Amy, I bring all this up because it scares me about parenting. I tell you the wedding story because it’s fresh in my mind and people love weddings, but I could also give you a million examples involving housecleaning, which no one wants to hear. I am persnickety, and at times terrible with guests because they change things from the way I had them. I absolutely hate this about myself, but I can’t stop it. My cup runneth over with anxiety when it’s not the way I had it. And it’s not even like my house is that clean!

Knowing all this, and being painfully aware that I am far, far from perfect, I’ve had to actively coach myself in letting go. Is that email marketing piece not laid out as well as I would like? It’s okay. It’s not embarrassing and it’s going to be on time, with all the right links and stuff. That sort of thing. Delegate and shut up about it because the other path leads to burn out. Not metaphorical dying star burn out, but real emotional and physical burn out from work at a job where I’m in marketing. I’m not a surgeon, lawyer, teacher, etc. People’s lives or livelihoods are not in my hands.

BUT WHAT OF MY FUTURE CHILDREN? Amy, they will undoubtedly break the pretty French doors in my house. I’ve looked at those doors and thought, “We’re going to have to take them down for years,” and then spent thirty minutes woeful because I won’t see those doors for a little while, even though the tradeoff is a friggen miracle. An actual, for real miracle.

Maybe that’s not so much control freaky as selfish. I agonize about that, too. That I’m just so despicably selfish that I shouldn’t even be allowed to think about having children.

Is the need to be in total control just selfishness thinly disguised as intensity? Am I despicable?

Oh God, I’m despicable.

Despicably,
Angela

— (two minutes later)

Amy, everything I wrote after “BUT WHAT OF MY FUTURE CHILDREN” is still about me and not the fate of those darlings. Is there any hope for them?

Dear Angela,

The fact that you have a sense of humor in the midst of what is clearly a controlling and anxiety-ridden personality WILL SAVE YOU. Will it save you as a parent? Maybe not, but it will help.

That-nonprofit-I-work-for (you know the one, the one where we met?) turned me into a control freak, and then — after a few years — turned me into the opposite of a control freak. I went from delegating and hating the results to NOT delegating and feeling pretty good about things (albeit without a life outside of work) to feeling stressed out about All the Things to having a baby and going back to work and delegating and feeling pretty good about it. It’s not how I would do it, but it’s done, and it’s FINE.

I would like to say this has bled into my homelife too, but I’m afraid it’s been the opposite. Having a kid is different than delegating. It’s different than something where you can have any semblance of an expected outcome. I can ask her to do something (clean up her toys, go to the park with me, do an art project, put down that knife), and there is, literally, no telling what will happen. It’s not like, if I ask an intern to make a flier for an event, for example, at the end of that “ask,” I’ll have a flier in my hand (it may have Comic Sans and clip art on it, but it will be a flier). Raising a child, asking for something simple, or even something the child SHOULD want to do (go for a bike ride) can yield a seemingly infinite number of responses (super-polite, embarrassingly rude, inexplicably blase — last week, when I asked her if she wanted to go to the Hands-on Museum [one of her favorite things], she very nonchalantly said, “Not quite yet,” and went about her day, never to return to the topic).

And of course all of this has affected my life-as-a-partner. I delegate but I am often nagging about having to delegate, or complaining about the end result (how long it took, how well it was done). I am pretty sure this is because Jason is the ONE person I live with who is a rational, reasonable human, so I sort of rely on him to “balance out” the toddler.

I can’t tell you, of course, the long-term outcome of any of this. I like to think it’s broadening my horizons, challenging me, helping me to grow, making me a better person. At work, I THINK this is the case. I’m much calmer, much less control-freaky, easier to get along with, not a stress case. At home, it’s made me squirrelly and impatient and short-tempered and (Jason’s assessment) “angry.” (I put that in quotes because I think he misappropriates my frustration as anger.) I’m also despicable. But I’m working on it (you are too), and I think that’s what matters.

Here’s where we went wrong, and we can discuss this at length on this blog soon: We MAY HAVE waited too long to have children. I had Violet when I was 35. That means I had almost 15 post-college, “adult” years to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted (more or less). This, I suppose, creates an inadvertent form of selfishness. I got used to having things my way, and THEN I erroneously supposed that because I had been a grown-up for so long, I was somehow SUPER qualified for parenthood.

Um, oh yeah, I think I’m supposed to advise you on your future children. You’ll do fine. You’ll freak out at your lack of control, you may become frustrated about it, and, eventually (I do not have evidence of this yet, but it seems important to mention I AM CERTAIN IT IS COMING) come to grips with it all and be an in-charge, on-top-of-it but also able to roll-with-the-punches, spontaneous, fun-loving mom who enjoys spending time with her family (and also enjoys being alone sometimes). As you point out, liking control comes with a bevy of good things, too.

That sense of humor? We are both SO LUCKY to have it. I’m pretty sure it will save us both.

Love,
Amy

Angela Kujava is married and has one cat. The unconditional love she has for her cat, and the ability to clean up semi-weekly poop/puke accidents without resentment, give her hope that maybe she might have it in her to someday be a not-despicable mom. In her free time she likes taking on projects that can be completed quickly like sewing infinity scarves, cooking things in a pressure cooker, and doing other people’s resumes.

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2 thoughts on “On Control

  1. Linda says:

    Dear Amy – I am so glad you recognize how wonderful it is to have a sense of humor. It is truly a gift (which I am hoping I have nurtured). It can get you through many, many things. I think you are a wonderful, caring, funny, loving Mom. It’s the toughest job in the world. You always think you are not doing a good job, mishandled a situation, scarred your child for life……it goes on, and it’s just part of motherhood. You will be fine! Hey look at me —- look how wonderful you turned out! And we like to spend time together and we laugh together and sometimes argue and disagree. It’s all good! I love you! Your Mom

  2. Brandon says:

    The thing that jumps out at me here is, “What’s wrong with comic sans and clip art?”

    But seriously, those of us who are more laid back (or maybe just me) can tell the difference between people who have control-freakish tendencies and are aware of them and working to be accepting and people who have the same tendencies but just sort of blame the world for being craptastic. We (I) can tell the difference, and we really appreciate the ones who are trying. Because what else can you do, really?

    ~Brandon, of Rachel’s boyfriend fame

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