The Need to Control Something

As I picked up my son’s clothes off the bathroom floor and walked into his bedroom to drop them in the hamper for the 7th night this week, I had an epiphany. This time, it wasn’t a realization in its usual form, which is to shout at my husband—who is in charge of bath time, by the way—for always expecting me to have a towel and pajamas laid out, for always expecting me to pick up the clothes, for always expecting me to drain the tub and put away the bath toys. Instead, I came to a humbling conclusion about myself: I need to control.

Over my Christmas vacation, I had the privilege of scheduling three play dates for my son with my friends who have toddlers as well. One night, my husband and I went out with a couple and we brought out kids to the restaurant with us. It went pretty well, then we got back to the house and let the kids play while my husband and his friend played video games and my friend and I chatted. Another day, I drove with my brother’s girlfriend to her sister’s house where her son and my son were able to ride their little power wheels outside on their acre (or more?) of land. The third play date was back at my place. A friend who lives in the neighborhood brought her little girl over, and the two kids played with play food, trains, jack-in-the-box, and puzzles.

And I noticed a pattern.

During each play date, what was I doing? I was picking up. Cleaning. Arranging. Looking on the floor to make sure that ball didn’t roll under the couch.

Even when I’m alone with my son, I’m looking at his Alphabet Train. Where’s the letter R? Where the hell is the letter R?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve admitted here before that many nights, my sink sits full of dishes and there are rooms that just don’t get cleaned on a regular basis. But. I need to control something.

That’s the realization I came to.

And I wonder if you can relate.

As working moms, we face a litany of factors in life that we cannot control. We cannot control our bosses, or even, in my case, our salaries. We cannot control our coworkers, or in my case, my students, or their responses to us. We cannot control our spouses’ work schedules. (And I cannot control that I’m not certain I punctuated spouses’ correctly.) We can’t control the commute to work or the behaviors of our tired or wound-up children when we pick them up or come home to them.

As any kind of mom, I think you need to see some consistency or have control of something, just to preserve one’s sanity. I guess mine lies in working out and making sure my house—or what people see of it—is tidy.

My son’s play area is orderly. We have a toy box and a stand with multi-colored storage bins. Cars are in one bin. Animals are in another. Puppets in another. Blocks in another, and so on.


This is my sanity. One little piece of the working mom puzzle I can (attempt) to keep in place.

What’s yours?


  • Mary Beth says:

    When I read the first paragraph, I knew this was you, Shannon! You are so self-reflective. I love your play area – so cute, and color-coordinated and tidy! I’m with you. I need to control something, when so much in my life and the world seems out of control. I also need to learn when to call it good, and let go. Lately the ‘scream-free marriage’ book is helping me think about how to own my emotions and at least let go of controlling my spouse! Ha ha!
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    • Shannon says:

      Thank you, Mary Beth! I try to be self reflective so that the people around me can see that, at the very least, I have intentions of not always being crazy!! I’m going to have to take a look at that book you suggested! If you figure out more practical tips on letting go, please pass them on :)
      Shannon recently posted..Word of 2013My Profile

  • SubaruMom09 says:

    Shannon – I do EXACTLY the same thing. It drives me insane that the white fish puzzle piece is missing. My daughter had friends over on NYE and I spent 15 minutes fretting about where they had left the money from the toy cash register. Every day, I pick my daughter up from school, take her home and empty her backpack. I HAVE to make her lunch for the next day, start dinner, set her clothes out for the next day, etc. I can’t sit down until these things are done. As a result, I never sit down. I, too, realized over the holiday break that I am too controlling and it’s going to stress me out to the point that it eventually impacts my health. I’m trying to keep calm about things and move on, but old habits die hard. :)
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    • Shannon says:

      Oh my goodness, how is it that there are so many of us?! Every Sunday when I’m doing laundry, I start packing my son’s bag for the week for his Abuela’s house… My husband’s always asking me why it can’t wait until late that night or the morning, but all I can say is I NEED it done!!

      And the puzzle piece? Omg. I’m a puzzle nazi. Legit, my kid can’t leave the room holding a puzzle piece because I know it’ll never find its way back or the dog will eat it!
      Shannon recently posted..Word of 2013My Profile

  • Brandy says:

    YUP. Same here. I have to control. Thankfully my husband is similar and takes on stuff as well (like he vacuumed ALL THE THINGS this weekend). I control the food. While I don’t make every meal, I almost always am the one serving it out. It gives me a sense of control to put those foods in the divider plate, mix up O’s cereal and mangoes and get it all on the table at the same time.

    And nothing wrong with being tidy with toys. This is setting an example for Will to organize and keep things picked up. That is NEVER a bad thing IMHO. Now just be ready for when the blocks are with the animals. Sometimes you have to know when to let go. It is the cleaning up you want, not the OCD :). (I struggle with it sometimes but alas at least i don’t step on legos).
    Brandy recently posted..Another Breastfeeding Soapbox RantMy Profile
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    • Shannon says:

      Thank you for understanding!! I do sing a clean up song with my little man and he’s SO good about putting his blocks away, even on his own. It’s so funny that you mentioned food because I loveeee fixing Will’s food into the compartments on the plate, and yesterday at a restaurant, my husband was cutting his food, and I kept saying, “I can do it… I can do it…” lol!!!
      Shannon recently posted..Word of 2013My Profile

  • Jamie says:

    I totally have this OCD too — only my control is about all things relating to the house/kids. (If only I could develop it again for weight loss/food intake/exercise — I used to have it there too! Now I need it again.) I just can’t handle it when there is stuff everywhere and when I don’t have a plan.
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  • Courtney says:

    Nothing like breaking up the need for control by having three kids. Under four. I have noticed that I WANT to control because it makes me feel safe, organized and competent and that when I feel out of control (typically when our house is a disaster), I am snippy and extra-bossy. My control shows up in bossing my husband around and blaming him in my head for things that don’t go right. A step in the right direction, as I used to blame him out loud. Now I say to myself, I didn’t do XXX, either, so I can’t blame him. Our house is controlled chaos and I end up not even looking at the messes because I get overwhelmed. . . I’m trying to train my kids right about cleaning up, but it is a struggle, to say the least, when my husband can’t put every ingredient away after making a simple sandwich. Sigh.
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  • Tracy says:

    I find myself getting this way with anxiety. Sometimes chaos can trigger anxiety. And sometimes cleaning helps me deal with said anxiety.
    Twitter: wa_tracy

  • Beth says:

    I am the same way. Not that my boys are older, I expect them to put their toys away organized. When it’s not done well, I respond one of two ways. I’ll take all the toys out that are put away wrong and have them do it again. Or if it’s something I’ve asked they do, like put their dirty washrages in the hamper; I refuse to wash or move them, so they just pile up until there is a dozen or so washrags on the shower ledge.
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  • YES! People are like how do you keep your house so tidy? I do it because it’s the single thing I have entirely complete control over. It’s also something I can see immediate results from. It makes me feel at least a little on the ball, ya know?
    Christa the BabbyMama recently posted..Tell Me Something You Couldn’t Care Less AboutMy Profile
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  • Alex says:

    This is me!!! It’s like I have to making sure my house is spotless, because it’s the only thing that I feel like I can actually fix. I feel like I’m the only one that feels that way…so glad I’m not!!!

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