My husband and I recently attended a parenting class hosted at Renovatus based on the popular book Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk. The second week of class revolutionized my life. It was literally mind blowing to me. In the lesson Silk declares that we’ve all bought into the great lie that we can be controlled and that others can control us. The longer I thought on this, the more apparent it became that I have swallowed that belief hook line and sinker. And while the point he was making was largely confined to how we raise our children, I knew this was far bigger for me than my 2 & 4 year old.
I grew up an Army brat. My father grew up an Army brat. My grandfather, my father, my uncle and my cousin all graduated from the United States Military Academy. My grandparents were married there and are buried there. Heredity has bred in me a profound respect (dare I say fear?) for authority and a serious understanding of the value in a chain of command. To this day my father could put his hand on his hip and point his finger at me and I feel certain he could reduce me to tears without even raising his voice! My sister and I were never spanked because the threat of my mother telling my father on us was enough to correct almost any disobedience on our part! Ironically, neither of my parents are particularly controlling people. They are not manipulative or coercive or overbearing. However, respect and obedience were core values in our home and were taken very seriously.
Now let’s take a moment to couple my upbringing with my temperament. I am a rule follower and a people pleaser. I like (dare I say need?) for everyone to get along and to feel cared for. I am easily influenced by a compelling argument or an impassioned case. While rational and reasonable, I am not overly trusting; yet I can be manipulated by authority or strong personalities. I presume they must know what they are talking about in order to be so dramatic or insistent! And in this way, I can live a lot of my life at mercy of others with their intense feelings, opinions, and pseudo-authority.
Subconsciously, my primary life goals then and now have been to avoid making mistakes, to keep the rules, and to make the people happy. THIS IS NO WAY TO LIVE! Don’t get me wrong- these are decent objectives. They just aren’t compelling or healthy life goals! There is no adventure, no real freedom nor sense of self in those pursuits.
Realizing that day in class that no one could control me honestly felt utterly scandalous. I’m sure I have understood that logically in the past, but never in such a way that made me feel liberated to take ownership for my thoughts, feelings, and choices. Historically those things have always been incredibly contingent on others. And if I’m being really honest, not living so contingently on others feels selfish when I do it, though it sounds healthy & right when I see others do it!
These days I’m putting a lot more effort into acknowledging myself and owning my thoughts. I have a voice. And it’s just as valid as the overly dramatic person’s or the overly confident person’s. I am in control of what can offend me. I can choose what I like even if no one else likes it. I get to decide how to respond in any given situation. Much like the books we read as children, I really can choose my own adventures in many ways. I can do all of that and be a loving wife and mother and friend and leader. It is possible and IT IS GOOD FOR ME.
These are new muscles I’m learning to flex. I’m grateful for the people around me who won’t let my sense of self atrophy– the people who know when I’m deferring when I shouldn’t be, the ones who know to ask me the questions sometimes as I’d much prefer to hide behind asking all the questions of you instead. Without them I’d surely give myself away to following the rules and avoiding mistakes and trying to make the world happy. Instead, I think I’ll flip to page 52 and see what adventures I can get into.