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The Illusion of Control

CommunityI frequently listen to The Nerdist podcast. Between being able to nerd out along with the hosts of the podcast and listen to great guests get into truly deep discussions about their history and perspective (i.e. the Mark Hamill episode is pretty phenomenal), it satisfies my two requirements for solid programming in the car:

  1. It’s funny
  2. It makes me think

And I’ve been thinking a lot about what one of The Nerdist’s hosts, Jonah Ray, said in one of the episodes I listened to a month or two ago. Jonah said (and I’m paraphrasing now) that as we get older, we learn to “forgive our parents because we are now the age they were when they were having us.”

Once I heard that, I immediately thought two things:

  1. Experience is the ultimate teacher and deliverer of perspective
  2. Crap, I am my parents.

Then, I thought further: What is parenting, really?

The answer: The illusion of control

We grasp for control in every situation we’re in–it’s the human condition. And since there are so many aspects of our lives that are out of our control, we seek it out anywhere we think we can find it. Enter a baby.

We think we’re overlords of these beings, these lumps of flesh and phlegm (how’s that for spelling without spellcheck?). We expect obedience the first time, every time, and get really upset when the baby doesn’t behave the way we would like them to.

Why do we parents do that? It’s crazy talk! Why?

We spend the first year saying Yes, then the next 2 (or 17) saying No.

Seriously, every milestone in the first year is celebrated. Hooray, you’re sitting up! Yes, please crawl! Fantastic, you’re walking! (Yes, walking sometimes comes later, as was the case with my daughter.)

Then, they’re mobile, and we think, “Shit, now they’ll get into everything!”

So, we start saying, “No.” No, don’t open that cabinet. No, you shouldn’t grab that knife. No, the dog is not a horse!

Isn’t that confusing for a baby? I can only think about my daughter’s internal monologue: “Gees, Daddy, you told me Yes for a year. Why is everything different now?”

I’m not advocating for never installing boundaries or teaching manners–far from it. But we have pretty high expectations if we expect the baby to fall in line like some sort of Marine.

We’re making it up as we go. Everything.

It’s time to admit it. I don’t know how to teach a three-year-old how to do anything, really. Yet, somehow I’m imparting knowledge and wisdom on a daily notice. (I believe yesterday’s lesson was about what my daughter should do if I tell her to “Enunciate!”)

And yes, parents, you’re faking it, too. Daily. Time to stop pretending you’re the smartest person in the world.

Parenting is all about faking it well. There are some things you simply can’t teach. For example, why kids shouldn’t bang their heads into the wall…

It’s okay to admit we don’t have control of the situation. Part of the fun is letting go and letting the kiddo figure it out for herself. After all, she’ll need self-reliance eventually… right?

So, do I “forgive” my parents? Yes, because I *get* it now. I understand.

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  • Alexander Maurizi March 28, 2013 4:07 am

    Sometimes parenting is totally about faking a confidence that is not there, because you know that your children are carefully watching you and that their confidence rely on yours. I wrote a post blog on how our children can teach us how to be better human beings if we only are willing to let go of our illusion of control. Take a look if you want, I would love to hear your opinion!
    Alexander Maurizi recently posted..Children are powerful Zen Masters: Living in the nowMy Profile

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    • Scott Cohen March 28, 2013 9:49 am

      Alexander: Thanks for the comment! I love your point about faking a confidence. That’s totally true. And it’s not so much faking a confidence, but in essence exuding the right emotion for the present situation. For example, this morning I was putting a new band-aid on a cut on my daughter’s knee. She was really starting to freak out, so I told her to take a deep breath and not worry about it. And I took a deep breath with her, and the band-aid went on smoothly with zero fuss.

      And, in reading your blog post, living in the present is a great message. Chris Hardwick, the host of The Nerdist podcast (mentioned in my post at the front), has this mantra of “Enjoy your burrito,” meaning enjoy what’s directly in front of you, rather than what might be.
      Scott Cohen recently posted..The Illusion of ControlMy Profile

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