My mom adventures in Fort Collins

Halloween taught me what a control freak I am

Often I have light-heartedly said, “I didn’t realize what a control freak I was until I had kids!” My kids, like most kids, are unpredictable. I see myself as laid back, but I have been proven wrong on this self-identified character trait many times. I’m attached to the idea that my day should go a certain way. Admittedly, my expectations are high: I want my day to go smoothly every day. My prayer has never once been, “Dear God, please see to it that every single thing that I put thought and effort into today goes terribly awry.” And yet, it feels as though that is precisely what happens on a fairly regular basis.

Imagine each of these situations:

  • I handed my then-toddler a “broken banana” (rather than the whole banana in one long, continuous banana shape)
  • I insisted that we strap her into the carseat, rather than flop around the car unrestrained
  • I advised wearing weather-appropriate footwear, and even-gasp!-socks
  • I put “sparkly” toothpaste on her toothbrush, rather than the “minty” kind
  • I said, “Five minutes until it’s time to go,” and vocalized the countdown  minute-by-minute, and then I tried to actually follow through on leaving said location
  • I turned the page of the book by myself
  • I did not give them four quarters to pump into the Claw Machine
  • I tried to give 2% milk instead of our standard 1% milk

Each and every one of the aforementioned situations prompted genuine despair and conflict for my family. Tears, snot and loud cries of heartbreak were all involved in these emotional reactions to seemingly innocent situations. Parents of small children know that there are many instances where something simple surprises everyone as a tantrum-trigger. In these situations, I was not at all laid back. I did not handle these tantrums with flexibility or grace. Some of the tears that were shed may have been my own.

Of course, Halloween is a control freak’s nightmare. The holiday has a lovely premise: Celebrate the night before All Saint’s Day by dressing children in costumes, and then have them approach strangers’ homes and beg for candy.  A successful Halloween is measured by the massive amount of sugary treats and no one smashing your Jack O’Lanterns. Check and check.

Despite a successful Halloween, I made a harsh discovery: I am a narcissistic control freak. It’s true. And it all started with an innocent attempt to help my daughter with her costume.

This is the first year that I helped Scout with her costume. My kids have traditionally been very big fans of Dress Up, and Halloween had previously been little more than going into the basement to pick out one of their Dress Up dresses to wear in public. The first problem with assisting with Halloween costumes is the high expectations involved. The thought that I could easily help with any project involving a deadline and a child’s anticipation of perfection is decidedly ambitious.

When Scout said she wanted to be Olivia, from the books by Ian Falconer, we found a photo of inspiration. We found tights at a Halloween store, but we went to the fabric store for everything else–the pattern and the fabric.

The original book by Ian Falconer (photo from

The original book by Ian Falconer (photo from

I foolishly thought we were committed to Olivia. About three days after our trip to gather the costume fixings, Scout requested to change her costume to “Ladybug Girl.Um, no, you’ll have to save that idea for next year. Daily, she continued to mention different costume ideas, and I kept pressing the issue: We already bought the fabric to make the Olivia costume.

The Olivia you see on TV, in the Nickelodeon series, and also the source of our inspiration for the costume

The Olivia you see on TV, in the Nickelodeon series, and also the source of our inspiration for the costume

Last weekend, the fabric went from being two yards of broadcloth to something resembling a jumper. Hours of shoulder-hunching over the sewing machine yielded promising results. Though the ears deserved more engineering than my husband and I were willing to perform, I think the costume was appropriately Olivia-like in its nature. Scout, on the other hand, was rather lukewarm about the costume and maintained that the ears were insufficiently stiff.

Struggling with those darn ears

Struggling with those darn ears

Prior to Halloween, she declined to try on the outfit and she even dressed as a “Spider Princess” for a Halloween event at our church. I told myself that it was her choice, and I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it, but I was hurt.  She maintained that she would dress as Olivia for school. On the big morning of Halloween, she started her morning by wearing a red dress… but not her Halloween costume. I told her that she could simply dress in her costume for school.

“Oh, okay.”

She did dress as Olivia and she did bring her ears along to school.

Olivia helps LIttle Red Riding Hood

Olivia helps LIttle Red Riding Hood

I knew that she wouldn’t want to be Olivia for Trick-or-Treating, so I wasn’t surprised when she wanted to take her costume off later that day. I asked her if I could take a few photos of her to send to her grandparents. She was uninterested. And this was the point in which I lost my marbles.

“Do you realize how much time I put into making this costume? Do you know how hard I worked on this? Even Dad pitched in to make your ears! All I want is one decent photo of you to send to your grandparents!” And on and on, all of which was said with the most guilt-trip inducing tone known to humankind. It worked. She put her costume back on and I snapped a few photos.

And after all of that, I thought, “WHY?” Why did I make my child feel guilty for wanting nothing to do with the costume I made her? Why did I get all bent out of shape because she had a change of heart? More than once I told myself, “I am never doing this again.” I’m not sure if I meant “I am never investing myself in a Halloween costume again” or “I am never acting like a two-year-old when I get my feelings hurt again.” Maybe both.

I felt rejected. My creation wasn’t met with the enthusiasm that I’d hoped for. Sure, she said “Thank you,” because I am a control freak who instills politeness in my children, but I wanted utter devotion to her new costume. I had absurdly assumed that my labor of love would be loved.

I was devastated. I was devastated? Seriously, there are people in this world with real problems and I’m sitting around feeling sorry for myself because my six-year-old doesn’t like my home ec project? It seemed so silly. And still my feelings persisted.

Amazingly, I came across this amazing devotion on “Grace” in the book Momfulness by Denise Roy. The words took my breath away.

Grace holds you up when you feel completely unappreciated because no one sees all the thousands of little things you do in a day. Grace sees.

Grace sees.

My kids are sweet, and my life is good, but I harbor no delusions that I’m doing it all perfectly. I am often not satisfied with the simple notion that Grace sees. I want my kids to see. I want my husband, my parents, my friends, my neighbor’s uncle’s dogs to all see.

I have not solved the problem of trying to control my life or the lives of my kids. My guess is that I will always struggle to let them make their own decisions, especially when their decisions seem to dismiss my own efforts and ideas. My interest in being acknowledged and seen is simply human and imperfect, but I have no malice in my heart.

What about you? Do you struggle with control issues as you parent? What have you found that has enhanced your ability to “let go” of things?


2 Comments so far
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Good one, Jaymers! I like the grace sees bit.

I’m not a parent, but the nephews are visiting this weekend. My feelings were hurt when nephew Arhan didn’t like the palak paneer I made especially for the kids. He said it was mirchy (spicy), which it totally wasn’t!

I have a feeling parents deal with picky eaters three times a day, so this is nothing new.

Comment by indiaindiana

Oh, JoAnne, I hear ya, I sooo hear you. Despite the hugs and love you’ll get this weekend, it seems your hard work was overlooked. I personally find cooking for kids a challenge, and I like to believe that I’m not alone… but then some mom will share how her kid eats eggplant and salmon and then I’m at a loss for words. Thanks, as always, for reading. I hope you thoroughly enjoy your weekend together. And know that I probably would have LOVED your delicious food.

Comment by jaymers

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