The Control Freak Mama: A Cautionary Tale


One of the biggest sources of contention in my marriage is when I micromanage my husband’s parenting. I don’t mean to do it, but it often just slips out, usually in a moment of high stress or conflict. It’s almost always a criticism veiled in the form of a question:

“Why didn’t you have the boys unpack their lunch boxes right after school?” (said in exasperation with a slightly accusatory tone when I realize the next morning during lunch-packing that their bento boxes are still filled with old food),

“Did the kids do their reading before bed?” (said while running through the evening checklist in my head, fearing that the usual routine faltered), and—

“Did you remember to sing their special songs?” (the wistful query that implies that I’m the only one that can impart comfort and security when the lights go out).

Controlling mom arguing with dad

Maybe I take my role too seriously… as a stay-at-home mom, planning and executing the daily routine for these little people is my full-time job. For the last nine years, I’ve made a career of professional boy-wrangling, and I like to think that I’ve gotten pretty good at it … although there’s no one around to give me a performance review. In moments of frustration, I have an admittedly illogical thought. I don’t walk into my husband’s workplace at the end of a long day and start recommending (with the best intentions) that everyone does things slightly differently after great care had already been taken to get to that point. I realize there are many fallacies in this analogy and that I’m placing way too much self-importance on my role as the primary caregiver, but it’s real. Some days when the co-parent enters the scene after a long absence, it shifts the dynamic. Sometimes this shift is a godsend, but other times it disrupts the harmony.

My husband and I are on the same page when it comes to all of the important parenting philosophies and generally back each other up, but it’s the little things that I choose to pick on, the details that I value. These are usually signposts of order, discipline, or consistency that I work hard to uphold: the expectations for behavior, and the daily routine. So I want to pull my hair out when I come home to wet swimming suits left in sopping piles on the floor instead of being hung up on the bathroom towel bar or that the kids have “been empowered” to make their own breakfasts and squeezed half a jar of honey on to their toast. I realize that everyone is still alive, healthy, and happy at the ends of these days, and I’m truly grateful to have a partner in this parenting whirlwind.  But, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that my need for control sometimes overshadows this gratitude and prevents me from enjoying the shared role of parenting.

A father in a superhero cape standing on a rock, holding a child's hand as the sun sets. One of the best cures I’ve found for this self-inflicted ailment is deliberately making more time to tap out of the parenting wrestling ring and allow my husband the opportunity to take the lead and establish his own routines with the boys. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if I can bow out for an afternoon on a regular basis or even a long weekend getaway with girlfriends, I notice a definite shift in my micromanagement tendencies and need for control. Perhaps this is partly due to the rejuvenation that comes from the “break,” but I also think that when I step out of the picture for short bursts, it’s good for everyone. Allowing my husband time to parent without my preferences for order and routine and my perceived “right ways” actually helps my boys develop a stronger relationship with their dad. They’re free to establish their own rhythm together, and my boys learn flexibility (and get a break from their mom’s Type-A affinity for routine). I notice a similar shift when my husband and I are able to get away for a weekend without the kids. When my boys spend time with their grandparents (unmarred by our interference), they develop closer bonds with these other “village leaders’ we all desperately need in our lives. So mamas, if you feel the control freak creeping out too frequently, find a way to detach for a short burst—everyone benefits from Mom’s Time-Out.