There are some comfort zone challenges you can plan for. Arranging a silent date with a friend, going to church, jumping out of a plane (definitely worth having a plan for that one). But then there are challenges that you didn’t plan for, that you never expected and that change you forever. As far as comfort zone challenges go, parenthood is an absolute doozie.
I make it sound like parenthood just came out of the blue, unplanned and unexpected…. Surprise, here’s a baby! Actually it was planned and I was pretty damn excited about it. In my true control-freak fashion I read every book there was on pregnancy and birth, I knew exactly what little features the little alien inside me was developing week to week. Only problem was that, despite everyone telling you parenthood is ‘hard’, I never really considered that what came after the birth would actually be the hardest bit.
Admittedly, prior to parenthood I was slightly delusional about the meaning of ‘hard’, and to be fair I think it’s very difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t had kids exactly the type of hard being referred to. My previous slightly arrogant self thought that I could do hard. And to a large extent I could. But I was good at the intellectual hard, or the physically hard. I was definitely not good at the emotional hard.
Life had worked for me up until Sophie was born because I had a set of rules about the way life was and I (thought I) had complete control over the aspects of my life, including my emotions, which I kept tightly locked away. Who has time to deal with pesky emotions, sheesh. Letting go of control has been (and continues to be) one of the biggest challenges that I have had to face about parenthood. But as with most comfort zone challenges, those things that we find the most difficult are also the most liberating and rewarding once you’re open to hearing the message.
The element of control that I find most interesting is around the idea that you can not control another human being, even your own child. I think I’ve said before, that I’ve never been shy about my opinions. And I think that it’s important that people have their own opinions. And while I’ve never tried to ‘control’ anyone per se, I have previously tried to make someone change their opinion by probably being more forthright (read: aggressive) than I probably should have.
Becoming a parent has really made me reflect a lot on the way that humans interact with each other and made me change the way I behave in a situation where I want to be persuasive. Dealing with a baby or a toddler has turned my perspective around so that I now consider the other person’s needs or feelings in any situation more. It doesn’t automatically mean that their needs always trump mine, but at least I now consider their point of view more. Yelling at a crying baby because you want it to stop is definitely less useful than considering what it is that it needs and trying to address it. Once their need it met, so too will your need for some peace and quiet. It actually sits much more comfortably with me now knowing that in a situation, someone else having their needs met doesn’t necessarily exclude me from having my needs met.
Of course there are always exceptions – like why the bloody hell people at work won’t put recyclables in the recycling bin instead of the normal bin! That is definitely a zero sum game. My earth-mother needs are clearly not being met in that situation (nor are the needs of our sick, dying planet by the way people! Just saying…), but I’m also learning that part of letting go of control is also about not expecting a particular outcome.
The less attached that you are to controlling another person’s behaviour and just accept that they are who they are and you can not change them, the more at peace you will be. People do change, and people can be persuaded and convinced, but at the end of the day it is them who is in control of that change. And I guess that is the biggest lesson. The “only” thing that we have control over are our own thoughts, our own actions and consequently our own lives.
How fucking cool is that!