I Don’t Even Want to Control You. Do I?

I’ve been storing up examples of Rory’s need for control, in part to prove to myself that I’m not imagining things, and to gain, of course, additional verification that she is trying to drive me crazy:
  1. In a restaurant, I ordered her chicken fingers, and she pitched a fit. “I not want you do that! What they got?” Um, chicken fried steak, meatloaf, smoked chicken and chicken fingers. That’s it. That’s the kind of restaurant it is (and one, I might add, she’s been to BEFORE). Oh, the fury. Oh, the angst. Oh, the tiny, angry voice declaring “I want chicken fingers.”
  2. Same night, mad at me about something else, she refused to get out of the car on the side I’d opened for her, the side she was sitting on, but walked over and opened up the other car door.
  3. Bathroom, airport. Upset that I washed Wyatt’s hands first and not hers. (He’d just barfed.) Goes to first towel dispenser. It won’t work for her. Second one is empty. Third, empty too. I wave my hand under the first one and get it to give up a towel–and she heads for the hated air dryers.
  4. Same airport: walks in front, always, always, always. Can’t wait to go through security. Can’t wait to go down jetway. I finally had to physically put her behind me and say, in so many words, today you have to do it my way. Just today, just once, just now, with me and you and three other kids and no other adults, you have to do what I say the way I say to do it.

I could go on, I could list about ten other things from today alone. Do you want some water? No, MILK. You stand here. No, not there. HERE.

I have worked so, so hard to let go of this. To convince myself that some of the time I have to just let her cut off her nose to spite her face (like at the candy store, when she chose the smallest possible thing just to avoid choosing anything I suggested). I’ve worked to stop suggesting. I give her the range of drink choices every time, even when I know she wants Sprite. I wait, and wait, and wait for her to get the automatic towel dispenser to work, and I let her walk her requisite ten feet in front unless it’s totally and completely unsafe to do it. I back off, I swear I do.

And as I back off, it’s better. She’ll wear what I suggest when it’s important (which isn’t often). Accept the Sprite when, for whatever reason, I really had to make the choice for her. I suspect she’s worked hard, too, to understand that I’m not trying to mess with her sense of self. We get this delicate balance going.

But it still makes me crazy. I’m all tense and wrought up, just writing about it. I know I haven’t really let it go, which makes me wonder: maybe my motives aren’t so pure as I make out.

Oh, sure, when I’m trying to get her barfing little brother out of the airport, I think we can concede that I’m right to just make her USE THE PAPER TOWEL I HAVE. But I make a bigger deal of it that I need to, dwell on it more than I should. Look at me, my whole demeanor seems to cry at that moment, and when I relate the story afterwards, look what I have to put up with!

The fact is, I’m caught in a power struggle with a five-year-old, and it’s one I need to let myself lose. Or maybe one I need to find a totally different way to win. Do I really care which side of the car she gets out on? What she orders to drink in a restaurant? Which paper towel dispenser she uses? No. But maybe I feel like her rejection of my choices for her is her rejection of me. Telling other people, worrying about  it, arguing with myself—is this my way of saying no, wait, I’m right! She shouldn’t push this, or me, aside!

But she’s not rejecting me, not at all. In fact, I’d argue that these moments of control come when she’s worried that I’m rejecting her, for the most part. When I’ve sat next to another kid, or am lavishing sudden attention on him at a moment when she’d accepted that no one was going to get much attention (that would be when you barf at the airport). What I want to control isn’t what she drinks or who orders it (if that were the issue, we would not be talking Sprite!). It’s how she feels about what she drinks or who orders it. I want her to roll with the punches, here, and she’s not ready to do that. If there’s a sudden change, an unexpected turn of events or a disappointment, she still needs to seize control any way she can.  Trying to yank that control back out of her hands clearly isn’t the answer. I’m not exactly sure what is. Maybe I’m the one who needs to roll with the punches until I figure it out.

Cross-posted on No Hands But Ours.

8 Responses to “I Don’t Even Want to Control You. Do I?”

  1. Jess says:

    Quote of the day at our house:

    Older child (Ben) is attempting to direct younger child (Finnegan) in a movie. Ben comes in all pissed off, and when I ask what’s wrong as Ben stomps off to his room, he shouts over his shoulder,

    “Finn does NOT take direction well!”

    Story of my life.

  2. Beth says:

    Roll, and then roll some more. My Chinese daughter (adopted at 15 months) is EXACTLY the same. She fights so hard to do things her way with no help or suggestion from someone else ( especially not her mom!) I DO IT!! is all I heard for the longest time. Major things like tying shoes and riding a bike…oh man, it gave me such fierce headaches. Many years later, she has learned she can come to me when all else fails – which is not that often! She puts a lot of pressure on herself, and I certainly don’t need to add to it. I now understand that THIS is how she tackles the world, and she’s doing just fine 🙂

  3. oh, the control issues. They are the number one stressor in our home right now. This child brings up things in me that I didn’t even know were there. I should be able to let it go, and some days I can, but it is so hard.

  4. Lisen says:

    Having been raised by a control freak, I know myslef to also be a control freak so of course, three adopted kids + two bios all trying to assert their own will = nearly constant triggers. I wish I knew some answers to help you with Rory’s control issues. Ali tries it much more with J than with me, like “Ali head upstairs and get jammies on” gets a big loud “NO! I DON”T WANT TO!” when he asks, but not when I tell her to do the same thing. She has picked her battle with me over her clothes so I let it go. Completely. It’s an easy thing to let go though since we go almost nowhere important anymore. When I used to lay out a cute outfit for her the night before school, etc., she’d get up and choose something totally different and awful anyway. Spite? Asserting control? My-mommy-sucks-so-I’ll-wear-whatever-I-want? Dunno, but now her teachers all know she chooses her own outfits that’s for sure!

    Anything in the Parenting on Track stuff about control battles?????

  5. Jennifer says:

    Saw this on NHBO and came here to comment – this IS NOT an issue solely related to adoption/adjustment/rejection issues. We have a 4-year-old son (not adopted) whom we have nicknamed Contrary Larry. We refer to “degrees of Larry-ness” in explaining his moods to each other. If I put out an outfit, he may wear it, but change the underwear I put out with it and be sure that he’s told me so. He’ll sit down to every meal and announce he’s not hungry or doesn’t like what I’ve cooked – right before he eats. He, too, will argue and pitch fits over which door of the car he will use to exit. We went out for ice cream at 9:00 p.m. last week – his sister’s team had just won a volleyball tournament – and he was livid because I would not order him dinner – he’d already eaten. And he refused to pick a flavor of ice cream. Argued when he heard me pick it. Then ate it. Last week he pitched a fit because I picked my color first on a board game – so we didn’t play. And then immediately argued because I chose the naptime story – so we didn’t read it. And, like you, I give LOTS of choices – this shirt or that one? What do you want for lunch? For snack? Do you want to help me clean? (He usually does!) I just keep saying, “This, too, will pass. . .”

  6. Nancy says:

    This does not get better. Sorry. When my daughter was little, someone gave her a reversible skirt. Stripes on one side, dots on the other. Mom, which side should I wear? Stripes. (You already know she’s not going to wear the stripes, don’t you?) If I say I don’t care, she can’t pick. Sometimes it took 20 minutes to pick dots or stripes to wear to church, which only took an hour!

    Now at 14, she’ll still ask “Should I wear shoes or flip flops to Disneyland” I say shoes and you know she’s going to wear the flipflops.

    Can I tell you how much I LOVE school uniforms? Love them.

  7. guest says:

    I don’t know if this applies to your situation, but you might try talking to Rory about it in 5 year old terms. Martha Osborne writes about something similar in http://www.rainbowkids.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=63

  8. ellen says:

    Well….my 3.5 year old does this to some extent too. And it drives me crazy also as I often feel like I don’t have control. But this post made me think back to your other one about “family age.” Is it possible that this is another example of Rory acting more like a 2 year old (she’s in your family almost 2 years, right?) than a 5 year old? If you see it in that perspective…if a 2 year old was saying “no” for the sake of it (as they love to do) would you feel the same way? Would you maybe just chalk it up to being 2? Just something to think about….