Are You in Control?


by Karen Ehman

To go deeper on the topic of women and control, see Control in Marriage and Control and Motherhood. Also, listen to Karen on the Focus on the Family broadcast.

The dishes needed to be done, and if I'd been at the sink, I'd have washed them in the proper sequence — from least to most soiled. Instead, my preteen was assigned the chore. He didn't give me an ounce of attitude but dove right in to the task. So why was I tempted to verbally pounce on him when I spied him performing his assignment? Because he wasn't doing it my way — the right way!

My son started with the greasy pots and pans and moved on to the plates and silverware. He had to bubble up more hot water to wash the glasses and entertained himself by trying to stack plastic cups in a pyramid. As I watched his oh-so-different-than-mine method, I could feel irritation churning inside me. It's true — I hate when chores are not completed the "right way."

Do you know what else is true? I love to control. And therein lies the issue.

Control issues can begin early for women. It's as if we arrive ready to plan, arrange and order — not only things, but also people. Little girls love to organize their stuffed animals or script a scenario for the characters in their dollhouse. They can pretend to be cooking dinner, caring for a baby doll and organizing a parade of toys all in one fell swoop. A young girl's ability to multitask prepares her for later in life when juggling many tasks will be a much-needed skill.

And then we become wives and mothers. We like to think of ourselves as those who pursue excellence and train kids — or prompt our husbands — to do the same. However, there exists a fine line between being conscientious and being controlling, and we can easily cross it without even noticing.

So, what lands us in the control-freak category? It occurs when we go from taking a job seriously to manipulating the outcome; when we go from gently instructing to barking orders. And when we cross that fine line, we often find ourselves behaving badly. After words are hurled and feelings are hurt, we have relationships to repair.

Let's follow the lead of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:26 when "she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." Yes, we need to train our kids to be responsible, respectful and committed to excellence. But teaching with kindness does not include barking or badgering.

And what about interactions with our husbands? Nagging, complaining and bossing are not helping to build our marriages. Instead, these unhealthy behaviors show disrespect, damage our relationship and set a bad example for our children.

So when we experience frustration because family members may not be completing a task the "right" way, let's pause to ask ourselves the following questions:

Is there an issue that needs to be addressed, or am I just trying to control?

If there is an issue, will it hurt someone or just irritate me?

Is there willful disobedience or just forgetfulness?

Is God trying to teach me something, and if so, what?

Can I find something my family member is doing well and praise the person for it?

If instruction needs to be given, when would be the best time to speak up in order to be encouraging?

Do I just need to let it go?

Remember — it may be a strength to be conscientious, but it's a weakness to be a control freak. We need to manage our homes well, and that includes trading badgering and nagging for kindness and wisdom. Who knows, our hubbies and kiddos might even do the dishes more frequently if we let go of that passion for the "proper sequence."

Karen Ehman serves as the director of speakers for Proverbs 31 Ministries and authored LET. IT. GO.: How to stop running the show and start walking in faith.

This article appeared in the October/November 2013 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "Are You in Control?" Copyright © 2013 by Karen Ehman. Used by permission.

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