Mom Acts Like 3-Year-Old and Gets What She Wants

Mom Acts Like 3-Year-Old and Gets What She Wants

By Stefanie Herron, Laura Doyle Certified Coach

I love eavesdropping on my three year old and his cousin. She’s four, so naturally, she assumes a position of superiority. Here’s one of their conversations:

4 year old: “You have to do whatever I say, okay?”
3 year old: “But I don’t want to!”

[Copious screaming ensues.]

I don’t blame him. That’s exactly how I feel when someone tells me what to do.

For example, my mother innocently suggested that I drive safely as I was leaving the house with my toddler. Now, I didn’t take to the streets like Evel Knievel, but I did notice a little demon prodding me to drive however I darn well pleased.

Another mother in the family (notice a pattern?) “asked” me five times to hold the mail while I was packing for a trip.

The hold-mail form got submitted none the quicker, as my demon fumed that I should put it off until I darn well pleased.

Maybe I’m just a defiant girl. In most regards, however, I’m quite the rule follower.

I read the instructions.

I file my taxes with cash-register honesty.

I obey traffic laws (well, most of them).

Perhaps others enjoy taking orders. Unfortunately, my husband is not among them.


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If only he would do things the right way (i.e., my way), I used to think, then our marriage would be great!

The more I insisted on the “right” way for my husband to eat, heed recycling guidelines, discipline the children, cook for me, put his shoes away, fix the pipes, argue with me (can I stop now?), the more my husband seemed to have a demon, too.

The nerve of him doing things his way! Most days, I figured he was incompetent; on good days, I was just smarter than him. I got so frustrated by his inability to carry out simple tasks that I decided to do everything myself—then resent him for it.

The turning point came when I learned three magic words from Laura Doyle: “Whatever you think.”

Ironically, when I quit telling him what to do and how to do it, he seemed keenly interested in my way. He asked me questions to the tune of our old dance: “What pan should I use?” “How much should I tip?” “What should I eat?”

I didn’t have to think too hard to figure things out for him because these questions were now easy to answer: “Whatever you think!” “Whatever you think!” “Whatever you think!”

Lest I sound like a broken record, my man does ask me questions besides just the ones that summon the ghost of my controlling past.

When he asks something that actually concerns me, such as what I want to do, I tell him.

I had no idea there existed such an effective system for getting what I want: saying what I want!

I love how easy my three-year-old makes it look. He pauses to consider his choices, then proclaims, “I want this marker. I don’t want this one.” Unwaveringly. Unapologetically.

In my experience, however, following his example is easier said than done, especially since I had the “I want” trained out of me as a child. It was rude to say those words, maybe even to think them. The safest route to being a good girl was self-denial, or not wanting anything at all. When the wants got squashed down, without anywhere to go, they started to come out sideways.

So, I’d politely hint–or just expect my husband to read my mind, then feel out of sorts when he didn’t know how to please me, even though half the time I didn’t know what I wanted myself!

Now that I’ve learned to express my desires and stay on my side of the street, it does drive him crazy sometimes. He’ll come to me with two shirts in his hands and an earnest look on his face, asking me which to wear. (You guessed it: “Whatever you think!”)

“No, I really want your opinion,” he bellows.

“I trust you to make that decision,” I confirm.

For many women I work with, this is going too far. “Yeah, but he asked you,” they object.

Yeah, but I spent enough years telling him what to wear, buying him wife-approved clothing, and hiding clothes I didn’t like. (Okay, I admit my demon buried his polyester golf shirts in the bottom of the pile, even post-surrendering.)

If this level of relinquishing control seems extreme, well, I needed an extreme course correction to get back on—and stay on—my side of the street.

Sadly, he’d gotten used to my being his mother.

As annoying as it must have been, it came with certain perks. He could rest easy knowing I’d take care of making decisions for him.

But it was not a sexy look for me.

I had no idea how disrespectful I was being by not trusting his thinking or accepting his way of doing things. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by teachers (and gifted with a knack for seeing in others what I’m blind to about myself).

I thought I was the only control freak around here, but apparently, it runs in the family. When I’m at the receiving end of the control dynamic, I finally understand how it feels.

All those “helpful” reminders only remind me that I must seem incapable of handling my own trip preparations or summoning the maternal instinct to drive safely.

I know I’m making this all sound easy. And it is—eventually. It just takes plenty of practice to get there.

Luckily, I have the support of other coaches to help me implement The Six Intimacy Skills™.

In the meantime, it’s simple, but definitely not easy.

Just “stay on my paper,” in Laura Doyle speak, the way I kept my eyes on my own paper in school.

A complication does arise when what’s on his paper is on mine too, like his driving or raising our children.

In those cases, I ask myself, “Can I control it? If so, is it worth the intimacy it would cost?”

I can’t control his driving, but fortunately he’s a good driver (and lost the cowbell he used to play while driving to salsa music).

Saying, “Whatever you think,”—or, harder yet, nothing at all—about the kids, however, has led to them going to bed wearing polyester or a shirt on backwards, I confess.

Oh, the horror! (Please don’t tell my mom.)

Somehow, they survived it, though.

The real magic of those three little words is that my demon can put down his pitchfork, leaving me free and serene.

I hope to channel my inner three-year-old in his place by relearning some other crucial words: “I want, I want, I want!”

What to do next…

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