Parenting #101: The Conflict for Control

My teenage son and I have battled for control over his life since he was an infant.

One Christmas when he was about four years old, I got the brilliant idea for us to make our Christmas cards. I carefully picked out various crafting materials and imagined the hours we would spend creating the perfect holiday cards for our friends and family. I am not entirely sure what possessed me to do this. Never in my life had I even thought of creating my own cards. When I was younger and childless with so much more time on my hands, I never even considered doing this, but this Christmas I was hell bent on Cole and I working and creating a family card.

We were probably about ten to fifteen minutes into card making when I started to lose my patience. Cole was not listening, nor was he particularly interested in this experience. He wanted to do other things, explore other places. He did not want to do this and he struggled with holding the stamper.

“If you are getting this frustrated, Kelly, perhaps you should stop,” my ex-husband suggested as he watched our interaction slowly dissolve into chaos.

“No,” I answered stubbornly. “All I am asking him to do is apply the glitter. This shouldn’t be this hard. I just don’t…Cole, no. That’s not, ugh.” I was insisting on bonding with my four-year old son as I continued to try and force him into our holiday fun.

About ten minutes after that, I gave up completely, my dreams of our mother-son bonding activity dead. The Christmas cards in the trash. I would buy them at the Walmart the next day.

Fast forward to now, and my dynamic with my son has not changed much. The power struggle continues and exploded last night when he came home an hour late and only after I drove to the Rita’s Water Ice to get him. He was supposed to be home at 7. He did not make it. I looked at my phone tracker. He was at Rita’s, which is where he was told he could not go because he needed to be home in time for dinner. I got in my car, and drove over to the Rita’s. He was surrounded by his friends. I rolled down the window.

“Get your ass home right now,” I said, and I rolled the window up and drove away. When he pulled up on his bike five minutes later, he already had his phone out.

“I know,” he said. “You’re taking my phone.”

“Oh, yeah? Did you know I am taking it until June?” I asked angrily as I snatched his phone and walked into the house. The anger I felt was palpable. I wanted to scream and cry and take away everything I could so he could feel as bad as I felt in that moment.

“Mom, I’m sorry, but I was having fun with my friends,” he said as he walked inside the house. I was in the kitchen finishing up the dishes, slamming cabinets.

“Oh, well while you were having fun with your friends, we were eating dinner as a family,” I answered. “And don’t tell me you’re sorry. You’re not, and it’s insulting.”

“I just wanted some freedom,” he responded.

“Freedom?” I answered back. “Freedom? Well, I had no idea, Braveheart. In that case…”

“You don’t get it. It’s just one dinner. You’re acting like I killed someone,” he responded. And to be honest, that’s how it felt in that moment. I felt like he was killing me. I felt so betrayed. I felt so scared and I was sure that this was for certain an unraveling of our relationship. It was around this moment that I realized my feelings were so extreme that they had to be triggered by something more than my son disobeying me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I did not want to stop feeling angry with him. I did not want to move out of my rage or fear. I could see his perspective. I could feel my own unraveling, but our argument continued, and we even spoke about it this morning and then again when he came home from track today.

This evening, our conversations finally became productive and no longer reactive, and I tried to create the space to step back and look at the various pieces of this. First, is the realization that my son and I have a dangerous dynamic. My need to control his behavior pushes him to make poor decisions. Cole’s poor decisions as he tries to create his own level of control over his life cause me to tailspin into despair and fear. This fear causes me to overreact with anger and even more shifts for control. This cycle is dangerous for both of us and it disrupts our ability to build a connection. My desire for control may push him away. His desire for control causes him to act poorly. How do we stop?

One way I can stop this is from my end. I have to truly think about the limits I create, but Cole has to think about his reactions to his feelings. I am not entirely sure how this is going to happen. Right now the only thing I can do is create safe spaces for us to talk as equals, share as two people on equal footing, which is hard to do as a parent. It requires you to hear things that hurt or that you really want to believe are not true. It requires listening and gentle words and questions.

As of right now, we’ve had some good deep-dive conversations. Tonight we studied for his Spanish test together. We enjoyed dinner as a family, and we had a good discussion about dealing with our emotions in healthy ways. He cut the grass as he was asked to do, and we seem better. It’s now been 24 hours without his phone, and I have to say that I really like it. This solution is not perfect, but it is working for now.

I guess we will see where this goes.

Love and Light, All.

Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on