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What My 2 Year Old Granddaughter Taught Me About Control

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

Have you ever been around a 2-year-old and been responsible for them for any length of time? Like me, you may have experienced a bit of a power struggle with them.

I've raised two boys and have two grandsons as well. Each of them, starting at around the age of two, began to exhibit their own form of demands. Being used to raising boys, I was prepared for what my grandsons might dish out. I thought I had a rudimentary understanding about their motivations. This way of thinking may not have been the best course of action, but it did seem to work for the most part.

What I found with my boys is that there was a struggle that was more steeped in the physical realm related to power vs. force. I was never one that liked overly rough physical interaction. I found my way in parenting using more verbal and intellectual ways. This included following my rules and within the boundaries of what I expected as proper behavior. I know that this method of parenting came from observation and learned behaviors from my parents, as well as our immediate social environment. I only knew what was modeled to me, but later on as I matured, I discovered other ways that still fit within what I expected from my sons.

When my sons wanted more physical interaction, they depended on each other to satisfy this need. For example, when they would run into the house and both take off there glasses and then bolt outside, I knew there was going to be some serious rough-housing. This was okay in my book as they new the rules and it was my job to create a safe space or container to interact. The only time I became upset was when they crossed a boundary that I had firmly put in place.

Then along came my youngest grandchild who decided to be a girl! I was most certainly not ready for this. Starting with changing diapers and then moving on to potty training, clothing, hair and a number of other aspects that were completely out of my wheelhouse. Was I really ready to be a responsible grandfather that could help a girl navigate her new world? I wasn't sure so I had to just sit back and see what happened.

To my surprise she really took the lead in establishing our relationship. I found her to be exceptionally bold, brave and plainly outspoken. There are times when we can have a full on conversation, complete with her detailed facial expressions, body language, hands and arms flailing about to describe the situation, all while not understanding a word she said.

Unfortunately, my old ways started to creep in. I, once again, found myself having expectations around her behavior. This was especially true when her and her brothers would visit us for various holidays or the occasional baby-sitting event. As in the past, my anxiety would ramp up significantly. I would find myself being very agitated with their visit and counted down the hours and minutes before they would go home.

After the grandkids would go home, I did find a sense of relief that once again left me feeling more calm and quiet. However, I also experienced a large portion of sadness and disappointment in myself that I really didn't enjoy my time with them. This was completely opposite to what I truly wanted.

In early January of 2023, I joined my son Ian and my wife Melissa on a clothes shopping excursion for my son. He was in process of upgrading his clothing for his job and I knew that I would be no help in the clothing department. So, Melissa was on point to help Ian pick out the clothes that fit and looked the best on him. One caveat was that we were also joined by my granddaughter for the day. In order to make this work for everyone, I decided to take charge of watching and caretaking for her. This would be a new adventure for me.

One of the advantages I had, was that my granddaughter and I already had a good relationship. This wasn't something I worked at. She just decided that I was someone she preferred, so I hoped this would help the day go as smooth as possible. I was still worried about my anxiety, but had a feeling that it would be okay.

A few days before the shopping experience, I worked with a coach / mentor of mine and the topic of control came up. I was challenged to really look at why this was such a big need of mine. At first I was a bit surprised at this. I didn't feel like I was someone who needed to "control" things. I mean, people seemed to like me, and for the most part I managed relationships well. At least I thought I did anyway.

When I looked deeper into this idea of needing control, I discovered that control equaled safety to me. If I could control my environment and the people in it, then I felt more relaxed. I had a better sense of knowing what was going to happen and in that, I was safe. This also extended itself into people that I care about. If I can control them and what they do, I also believed they would be safe as well.

When we arrived at the clothing store I settled into caretaker mode, but with a large portion of "let's see what happens" mixed in. We made our way to the men's clothing area and I established a mental perimeter that we needed to stay within. This perimeter would allow me the freedom of movement all while allowing me to see / know where they were shopping. Luckily we happened to start out near the children's toys area. This was all that my granddaughter needed. She had her Papa nearby and a laser focus on all the various toys scattered about.

My only two objectives were to allow my son and wife to have the freedom to shop and focus on what he needed, the other was to keep my granddaughter safe. When we started looking at the toys, I just followed her around. I was surprised that she really enjoyed just looking at the toys and also a natural inclination to organize them and put them in their proper places. I had no idea that someone so young would have a sense of seeing patterns and knowing how things should flow.

The more I stepped away from the thoughts and habits of telling her what to do or where to go, the more relaxing the time with her became. We had no particular objective and I could see the joy that she attained by immersing herself into the sensory experience of the store. This experience began to open my eyes even more to enjoying my time with her. To see the colors, patterns and textures of the merchandise was not overwhelming to me like it usually is. For one who does not like to shop, because I get overwhelmed, this was a new and surprising revelation!

As the hours marched forward, her and I weaved in and out of the clothing racks. We played hide-n-seek, peak-a-boo, and of course looked at all the materials and colors that the store had to offer. She had a natural propensity for wanting her picture taken. She would run over to the mannequins, hold their hands and smiled broadly as a way to notify me that I needed to take a quick photo. Yes, it was adorable!

When we were roaming about and I was following, I started to notice the impact this little human was having on others. Her simple free spirit lifted the hearts of several people as I could see the smiles appear on their faces. I could almost sense the next thought in their minds being a longing to be as free as she was. It was in these repeated moments that I found myself being infected by her joy and sense of wonder. I became more and more lost in the sensory experience of the place and it resurrected a long sleeping child within me. I couldn't help but feel light, joyful and full of compassionate love.

We followed up our shopping experience with lunch at a local restaurant. She was patient as we had to wait to be seated and to get our food. Once the chicken strips arrived, she devoured the food with joy as she looked about the restaurant. Her body language was telling of her growing fatigue and the emotions related to that started to show. In the past, this growing tension would have spiked my anxiety even further, but not this day. I seemed to be in synch with my granddaughter as I could feel the exhaustion wash over me as my belly became filled. It was time to go home.

After we reached home, we received a text message from my son showing her sleeping soundly after having a good day with Papa, just being who she was. This moment topped off my day of learning what my 2-year-old granddaughter had to teach me about letting go of control. She spent 100% of her time in the present moment. She allowed all of her emotions to be felt, expressed and then released. These qualities impacted me in a way that I will never forget. I couldn't have had a better teacher.

by Dwight J. Raatz, Author & Konsilisto

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