When I arrived home late one evening after attending a ladies’ event at church, I heard both of my babies wailing. Dropping my purse, I ran up to their bedrooms in a panic. The poor little dears had been crying for quite some time! They were red-faced, hot, and mad. I immediately picked them up, soothed them with pacifiers and stuffed animals, then had them back to sleep in minutes.
Back downstairs, I found my husband on the couch. I shook him out of a deep sleep and he sat up, startled, asking, “What? What’s wrong?”
I said, “Honey! The kids were crying!”
He said, “Oh! Are they okay?”
I said, “Well, they are now.”
“Oh, good,” he said with no further comment, and drifted back to sleep.
Oh, but it wasn’t good. Not good at all. I paced the floor fuming for a very long time, while everyone else slept peacefully.
A Controlling Wife
Instances like this caused me to have what I considered “reasonable doubt” about my husband’s competency with our children. He would do things like let them toddle beside him in the parking lot without holding their hand, feed them food that wasn’t chopped up small enough or forget their jackets on a chilly day.
I worried constantly that he wouldn’t worry about something really important!
I started seeing myself as the “lead parent,” the one responsible for us all. Yes, he was out there making the money and paying the mortgage and electric bills, but I was definitely the one holding down the fort, even when he was home.
A Passive Husband
About ten years into marriage, God began opening my eyes to something I hadn’t seen before. My constant fretting and anxious frustration were actually tied to my deep craving for control. The same with my anger. When I erupted over something silly like my husband not screwing on the sippy cup lids tight enough, my anger was really a response to losing the control that I craved.
Family life got crazier, I got more controlling, and my husband became more passive. He was fine with me grabbing the knife and cutting up the hotdogs in smaller chunks. He didn’t mind if I marched the kids back into the house to get their jackets on. And he slept even more peacefully on the couch, knowing that I would hustle around and worry enough for the both of us.
That might seem harmless, protective or even maternal, but I assure you that becoming a Control Girl mama was not a positive for any of us. Having the control I crave does not bring out the best in me. Nor does it bring out the best in my husband. The more I take control, the more condescending, rude, and disrespectful I become toward him. His response to this behavior from me is to “opt out” and go do his own thing.
The last thing my family needs is a passive husband and dad. God designed husbands to be leaders for their families. He wants dads to be involved in parenting. God laid out the blueprint for families in Ephesians 5:22-25, saying wives are to submit to (not control) their husbands, and husbands are to sacrificially lead their wives (not take the back seat in the marriage). So according to God, I can’t be a Control Girl wife and mom and living in surrender to Him at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive.
How to Stop Being a Control Girl
Breaking the patterns that we put into place during those early years has not been easy or immediate for me. If you, like me, want to stop being a Control Girl mama, here are three things I’ve found helpful:
1. Meditate on truth. The truth is, God is in control! That means I don’t have to be. So many of the things we try to control in the moment have to do with trying to protect our future and make everyone happy. But I could spend a lifetime lunging for control over big things and small and never safeguard the people I love from heartache. God wants me to find assurance from knowing He sees me and loves me. He wants me to have settled peace about the future, believing He holds all of the contingencies in his hands. He wants me to have security, knowing He is working all things together for good.
2. Purposefully Surrender. Surrender doesn’t come naturally for me. I have to choose it. When I feel the anger or anxiety rise inside me, I ask, “Ok, Shannon. What are you trying to control here?” or “What do you feel like you’re losing control of?” Whatever it is, it must be surrendered to God. That’s the only way to have peace and the victory!
3. Invite my Husband to Lead. I naturally want to take control, and my husband naturally wants to let me. The last thing he wants to do, after a challenging day of leading at work, is to come home and argue with me about whether the kids can have a snack. So to draw out the leader in him, I have to stop challenging him on insignificant things. I must invite him to lead, and then respect his decisions. When the kids are little this means saying, “Let’s ask Daddy.” When they’re older, it means saying, “You’re going to have to check with Dad about that.”
Now that our kids are all teenagers, something surprising has happened: In many ways, my husband has become the lead parent! He’s much more even tempered than I am, and doesn’t get drawn into emotional debates. He’s wise, consistent, and fun with our kids. Oh, how thankful I am to have him engaged in parenting!
I’m definitely still on a journey, but when I invite the man I love to lead our family and meditate on the ways that all of us are held securely by the big, wise hands of God, I can relax and not worry or stress out so much. I can find freedom from being a Control Girl mama.
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Shannon Popkin is a writer, speaker and Bible teacher who combines her gifts for humor and storytelling with her passion for Jesus. She is a regular contributor for the Revive Our Hearts’ True Woman blog and author of the book Control Girl. Popkin and her husband live the fast-paced life of parenting three teens in Michigan. Connect with Shannon Popkin by visiting www.shannonpopkin.com, following her on Facebook (shanpopkin) or following her via Twitter (@ShannonPopkin).