The Difference Between Training and Controlling

Illustration of a Mother watching while daughter sorts socks
Jojo Ennslin

"Look Mom, I cleaned out my closet! See how great it looks?" As I stood there surveying what clearly resembled an unorganized mess, I contemplated how to react. I wanted to empty the entire closet, start the project over and do it the right way — my way. Instead, I smiled and said, "Great job! You worked hard. Now let's get that pile to the trash."

Need for control

Have you ever come behind your children and redone their work? You know, like reloading the dishwasher, improving the science project or reorganizing a closet? I have. And I'm ashamed to admit it. When my kids did not meet my expectations, I became frustrated and demanded compliance.

Some moms think the need to control is necessary, while others refer to it as efficiency. But I'm learning firsthand that it's really a sign that Mom simply got herself stuck in the "Me Mom" trap. You may be familiar with this predicament. Signs include an overarching need to control what your children do and exactly how they do it.

Our need to control often reflects our attitude. Do we measure peace and contentment by our ability to achieve neatness and order? And in the process of achieving order, do we find ourselves creating chaos, even hurting the children we've been given to nurture?

Nurturing desire for success

Our role as our children's first teacher is to motivate them to improve and instill in them a desire to do well. Our lesson as women is to desire God's will, more than our own, for ourselves and our families (1 John 2:17).

Proverbs 22:6 instructs us to "train a child in the way he should go," not "control a child in the way we want him to go." Once we make it less about our need to have things done our way and more about teaching and encouraging, our kids can learn a good work ethic at the same time we (as moms) find peace and contentment. Isn't it just like God to shape and grow us as we shape and grow our kids?

Nurturing children toward success is one of the greatest joys of motherhood. We will not find joy by seeking control, but we will flourish when we replace the Me Mom attitude with a heart of grace.

This article appeared in the August/September 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2012 by Tracey Lanter Eyster. Used by permission.

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