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Control Freaks Anonymous

There’s a great scene in the movie Date Night where the married couple, Phil and Claire Foster, played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey, are fighting in the car. Tina Fey’s character explains that she is just so tired, and the only fantasies she really entertains are of checking into a hotel and sipping a Diet Sprite all by herself, with no one to hang off of her. Because all day, everyday, she does laundry, she cleans the house, she gets the kids ready for school, she goes to work, she makes dinner, she gets the kids ready for bed (It’s always a surprise that we have to actually put on pyjamas!), and then she starts all over again. And she’s exhausted.
Steve Carell isn’t really that sympathetic.

“I know you have a lot on your plate, but part of the reason is because you never let me share the load. You have to do everything. You should let me do things sometimes. I might surprise you.”

I think there’s a little bit of Tina Fey in all of us moms. We’re control freaks, and we do run ourselves ragged because we so much want our kids’ lives, and our husband’s life, and the lives of those around us to go well. We have this dream of what things should look like, and we run after that dream, full speed ahead.

Let It GoKaren Ehman knows what that’s like. I had the privilege of reading an early copy of Karen Ehman’s amazing new book, Let It Go. When she sent the email out asking if anyone of us were interested in taking a look, I jumped at the chance (though I often say no to other such requests) because I knew I needed this. I suffer from major control-freak tendencies.

Do you?

Karen starts the book by recounting a time when she was completely OUT of control. Pregnant with her third child, she suffered horrible nausea all day and was laid out flat. Teens from the church came to clean her house, and instead of feeling grateful, she felt physically ill–even more so than she did before! Can you relate? Do you have a hard time when you CAN’T control things?

She realized what the heart of the matter was: the realization that she was dispensable, and that when she wasn’t in control, she couldn’t get her own way.

We try to control in a myriad of ways: we’re passive aggressive, steering things the way we want them to go. We cover up for everyone’s faults or mistakes. Or we become the drill sergeant, trying to get everyone to fall into line.

But no matter which way you manifest your control freak tendencies, the root cause is the same: if you’re trying to run things, then you’re not trusting God. And seriously, trying to be in control is tiring.

Honestly, though, I’ve read lots of books that say “you just need to trust God more”. It’s a common message, and to tell you the truth, if I can say this without getting blasphemous, sometimes the books bug me. I’m not always certain the author really understands where I’m coming from. I KNOW the answer is that we’ve got to trust God more. Seriously, that’s the answer to just about EVERY problem in our lives. That’s the central issue of humanity. The problem is not that I don’t know I need to trust God more; the problem is that I can’t seem to do it.

And that’s where I found Karen’s book refreshing, because she was sympathetic about why we are the way we are, and she gave some great insights into some of the reasons that we as women have these control freak tendencies. I really enjoyed her section, for instance, on the problems of choice. One of the reasons that things are harder today is simply that we do have so many more choices. We’ve lost simplicity.

And because of that we have the illusion of happiness–a favourite theme of mine when I speak. Because we have so many choices, it naturally follows that if we just make the right ones we’ll be happy. And thus we get all wrapped up in choosing the right things. It was much easier when your choices about work, and childcare, and even what you were going to make for dinner were much more limited. We have the problem of excess.

The book is easy to read, peppered with one-liners. There are exercises at the end of each chapter to help you figure out where you’re at.

I want to leave you with one example of an error that she feels many moms make, and then tell you the three personal takeaways I had from the book.

Take Micromanaging Mama: Does that describe you? You give the child dishes to do, and you focus on the fact that they’re doing it WRONG because they aren’t doing it the way you do. I loved this example of a different way to handle it:

Say to him, “I love how you make chores fun. I wish I were more like you.” And then, at a different time, teach him when YOU’RE doing the dishes why you wash the glasses first and not the pots.

What Karen eventually realized was the Two Plus Two Equals Four lesson:

“I just tell mysef, two plus two equals four. three plus one equals four. Seven minus three equals four.”

They all get to four. They just get there differently! I needed to hear that today.

Here, then, are three quick lessons I learned, that perhaps you need to hear today, too.

1. Giving up control should feel foreign. I think many times I’ve believed that I’ve relinquished control when all I’ve really done is put a smile on my face and tried to be nicer. If it doesn’t feel foreign, it wasn’t real.

2. Second, I do emotionally manipulate my family without realizing it. I’m great at guilt.

3. And third, I have a hard time accepting Keith’s love for me because at heart I’m too busy trying to be in control to settle down and just let him love on me, so to speak. I’m always thinking about what I SHOULD be doing.

I need that Steve Carell lesson.

What about you?

Let. It. Go is a great book which is also available as a DVD study. You can find Karen at www.karenehman.com. Karen is doing a blog tour with her book which is almost wrapping up, and one person who comments during this blog tour is going to win a Kindle Fire! So leave a comment explaining why you have a problem with being a control freak (or how you conquered it) to enter to win.

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