Toddler taming my control-beast

In my experience nothing tames your self-control beast like parenthood.

When I was pregnant people repeatedly asked me how I was going to cope when the baby arrived and refused to follow a schedule. I joked in reply that I was pretty sure my baby would be born holding a colour coded to-do list.

Given my love for all things organisation (I think I’ve mentioned my alphabetised spice rack before) it was a fair enough question, yet not one I stressed about overly.

In some ways I think pregnancy prepares you for the demands of parenthood. Nothing is more unnerving than realising that your body really is just a complex organism that you have next to no control over; I mean if I could have knocked the 24hr a day nausea thing on it’s head I bloody would have!

So I had plenty of time to practice not being in control of stuff. But it wasn’t easy. I did lots of meditation. I focused on the things I could manage like healthy eating and exercise. I did fun things like craft stuff for the nursery. I accepted help from others.

Then like clockwork little Elliott arrived on his due date after a textbook 3 hour labour. Kid appeared to love a schedule, yahoo!

Then of course the tough stuff started. The sleepless nights ahead of a big day. The ‘poonami’ just as you’re about to head out of the door. The need to cluster-feed as you’re trying to make dinner. And more recently, the epic tantrums when you’re trying to achieve anything; washing, cleaning, cooking, showering.

So yeah. My days don’t run like clockwork like they used to. There are days it drives me batty, and there are days I completely let it slide. But I’ve learnt some great tricks to stay on top as much as possible amidst the chaos:

  1. Technology is your friend. My husband and I have a shared calendar so we know who is where and when. My grocery app has a barcode scanner so as things run out during the week I take a quick snap and whammo on the order they go! I use a cleaning app that prioritises tasks that are overdue, a life saver when you have a partner who needs a list to know what’s grotty…

  2. Pre-plan what you can. I plan meals in advance and order everything we need for the week ahead. Each Saturday I work my calendar out for the week ahead and plan logistics with my other half. I pack lunches and snack boxes the night before so I can just grab and go. I have a fully stocked toy bag in the car with everything a toddler needs to stay busy (and quiet).

  3. Always allow for buffer time. I try not to book things back to back because that’s just asking for trouble. I add in disaster time so if the worst happens, we’re still ok. If things don’t go pear-shaped we just have more time to play or have a more relaxed journey. Win Win!

  4. Accept failure is an option. There are times the stars just refuse to align and you can’t meet a commitment. I let people know as early as possible and am totally upfront about why I am bailing out. 9 times out of 10 people are completely understanding.

  5. Roll with the punches. The other night Elliot refused to have a bath. He screamed blue murder anytime we tried to take his t-shirt off. We ended up sitting as a family (dogs and all) on the bathroom floor for 40 minutes as Elliott explored the vanity cupboards and smeared bubbles from his bath everywhere including on us. But it was fun watching him explore his world AND he happily brushed his teeth which never happens.

I have taken all these lessons into my professional life and it’s made that side of my life easier as a result.

  1. Technology: I have GDrive, Trello and Canva apps on my phone so I can work on the fly and always have access to my stuff. I digitised all our admin for Playgroup to save time and effort. I learned how to schedule posts so things happen on time even if I’m busy. Having Google calendar on both my laptop and phone is a lifesaver.

  2. Pre-planning: I use Monday Hour 1 to diarise tasks into my week so I have a realistic picture of what I can achieve. If I don’t get it done, I just re-diarise it! I craft some of my social media content in advance so I can just press and play on busy days.

  3. Buffer time: I don’t book more than one connection call a day. I don’t book back to back meetings. I have a standing lunch break in my calendar that I don’t book over. I prioritise my time so the time I share with others is higher value.

  4. Failure: If things are going awry I reach out early and ask if meetings can be rescheduled. I explain that I want to give 100% but that won’t be possible today because XYZ has gone down. When I miss stuff (usually replying to LinkedIn messages) or run late to meetings, I own up and I thank people for being patient or understanding. I shout coffees.

  5. Roll with it: Some days I wake up and I’m not in the headspace to do what I planned. I figure out what I do feel up for and I do that instead. No biggie. Sometimes I work with a kid sitting on my lap. No biggie. Sometimes I use the iPad to keep Wee Man quiet while I take a call or send an email. No biggie.

When I feel the control-beast sneaking up on me, I remember my wonderful school-teacher aunt who very optimistically contacted a list of rules into the front of every colouring book in her house (this was before she had children herself, but I believe this continued after her daughters arrived). The story has long been a source of hilarity for family members, but I find it a helpful reflection:

  • Does it really matter that a kid colours page 2 before moving on to page 3? No.

  • Does it really matter if someone colours a hat blue instead of red? No.

  • Does it really matter if a 3-year-old colours outside the lines? No.

Does what I’m trying to control really matter? If the answer is no, don’t sweat it!

A few months ago this little video did the rounds that really helped me contextualise why its important to let go, especially with parenting. A warning for all of those sleep deprived and slightly hormonal mama-bears out there, it’s a bit of a tear jerker.

What feels like loss of control, frustration or failure to you doesn’t necessarily look or feel like that to others. In fact, it’s sometimes the toughest moments that become the most joyful; our random family time in the bathroom the other night is one and the cake moment in the video is another.

And this applies to work too. I remember when staying late to fix a printing screw up lead to us ordering pizza and laughing the night away. Or the time there was a muck up with a catering order so we held an impromptu office-wide afternoon tea to get rid of the food. Or the time I missed a flight and ended up having dinner (and wine) with colleagues and learning so much more about them.

Ok, the scissors in my house will continue to have a ‘home’, there will always be matching cutlery and crockery (no mismatched mugs in my cupboard thanks!) and my spice rack will remain alphabetised.

I can tame the control-beast but I don’t think it will ever be completely domesticated!

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