About the Guest
In what ways are you controlling your kids? Karen Ehman and Nicole Unice, former controllers, talk about the very real temptation to control your kids so they'll live happy lives and stay on a good path. However, Karen and Nicole remind us that parenting is all about training your children to make wise choices and eventually working yourself out of a job. Hear these former control freaks tell where they've been challenged to "let go" and not control their children.
Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and New York Times Best-selling author. Described as profoundly practical, engagingly funny and downright real, her passion is to help women to live their priorities and love their lives as they serve God and others. Karen writes for Encouragement for Today online devotions that bring God's peace, perspective,...moremore
Karen Ehman and Nicole Unice, former controllers, discuss how parenting is all about training your children to make wise choices and eventually working yourself out of a job.
Bob: I have some bad news for you today. If you are a parent, you will mess some things up. And for those of you who have high standards, and want to be in control of everything, get ready for bigger problems. Here’s Nicole Unice.
Nicole: I remember reading somewhere, a long time ago—and it was just this little comment—but it said, “If your Heavenly Father has as many problems with His children as He does, don’t you think you might have some with yours?” So, getting over the idea that, “I’m going to do it perfectly.” Of course, we all sort of nod our heads, “Yes. Yes, of course, I’m not going to do it perfectly,” but really letting that sink in. “I, in who I am, will be a problem for my children, at some point.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today forFriday, July 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Here’s an important question today: “When you mess up, or when someone you know messes up, do you give yourself—or do you give them—grace?” We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. You know, we’ve been talking this week about the issue of control, and I haven’t heard you mention Barbara much. [Laughter] Is there anything you wanted to share about—I just had to—I’m sorry.
Nicole: Long pause. [Laughter]
Dennis: Here’s the funny part of that. You don’t know what just happened—I walked out of here and walked back to my office, here outside the studio.
Bob: Just a few minutes ago; yes.
Dennis: I walked by Barbara’s office, and went in, and gave her a hug, and was kind of hugging her there gently. I said, “By the way, we’re doing some great radio with a couple of ladies about controlling women.” And--this is no kidding—she said, “Do I have a problem with control?”
Karen: Oh, boy.
Nicole: Look at that!
Dennis: I said: “I’m not answering that question! [Laughter] You need to listen to the broadcast and come to a conclusion on that.” I mean, and then you come in and ask me about this. It is like, “Did she stick her head in here or something?”
Bob: She did not; no. No, I think the Lord just was working—[Laughter]
Dennis: I don’t know this—because I don’t know everybody’s heart—but I wonder if control is not an issue, at some level, for all human beings.
Nicole: Yes; yes.
Dennis: I mean, I just kind of wonder about this subject—if it’s not kind of like a law of gravity? We all struggle with it.
Well, we’ve got a couple of authors with us—the author of She’s Got Issues by Nicole Unice; and Let. It. Go. In fact, I’m going to say it the way it’s written: [Speaking forcefully] LET IT GO—[Laughter]
Bob: You have got to have the pause—
Nicole: That was very controlling!
Bob: That’s it—there are periods there.
Dennis: —by Karen Ehman. Karen, Nicole, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Karen: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Dennis: Before we get to the main focus of the day—which we want to talk about how somebody can really begin to deal with this issue of control.
I, first of all, want—you decide who’s going to talk about which—but I want you to talk about how wives control their husbands and how mothers control their kids.
Bob: Karen, you get to start. Which one do you want?
Karen: Well, I’ve had kids longer than—
Nicole: I was going to—I was going to ask you, Karen, to do it because I feel like you’ve gone through most of the life cycle of raising kids. I’m still really learning, and I want to hear—I’m ready to learn from you.
Karen: Yes, my children are 22, 18, and 15. When I told my children I was writing a book on being a control freak, my older two said: “Oh, boy, Mom, do you have a lot of material on that! You can really write on that—you wrote the book on that.” [Laughter]
Nicole: “Thanks, kids.”
Karen: But my youngest said, “Mom’s not controlling! Mom’s not a control freak.” He could name off a bunch of other mothers in his circle of friends that he knew were. I thought, “I must be getting it right. I must be doing a little better as my kids grow up.”
Bob: That’s encouraging.
Nicole: Yes, that is encouraging.
Bob: Well, it’s either that or it’s just a tender-hearted kid—one of the two; right?
Karen: Or he wants something.
Dennis: He’s kissing up to her to—
Bob: Yes, he wants something; right.
Dennis: He wants an increase in the allowance. [Laughter]
Karen: Actually, he’s my child who’s the bluntest and calls it like it is—so it really was a compliment, coming from him.
Karen: But I think, for me, I want my children to learn life’s lessons now, and not make mistakes that I made, and not make mistakes that my husband made, and not make mistakes that I see the other kids in culture making. So, I just want to give the lecture and have them respond appropriately.
Dennis: Have them get it and then live perfect lives.
Karen: Absolutely! I just want to control how they think, how they dress, how they act, who they hang out with, what they go forward and do in life, and their relationship with God. I just want it to be good! I want them to be happy! I want them to be fulfilled. I want them to fulfill God’s plan for their life. So, if they would just do everything I tell them—that would happen!
Bob: Well, isn’t parenting, at some level, about controlling their choices?
Karen: It is; it is. It’s about slowly giving the reigns over to them—
Karen: —about things that don’t matter. When they’re younger—you know, let them make a choice of what outfit to wear—and then, slowly teach them to make good choices.
But you’re teaching them to make the choices. You’re not making them for them.
Dennis: Yes, that’s what I would say in response to Bob’s comment. I think the goal of parenting is to train your children to ultimately become adults—
Dennis: —who know how to make wise choices.
Karen: Yes, and I always say the goal, as a parent, is to work yourself out of a job. So just a little simple example at our house—by the time our children are 12, they do their own laundry. My philosophy is that, if a 12-year-old can run an XBox controller, they can push the “on” button on the washing machine; right?
But I think the control comes in when we want to prevent pain and we want to prevent mistakes. If we always micromanage our kids and make all the choices for them, when they launch from our nest, they will be crippled. They won’t know how to make them. They need to be slowly given that responsibility—to make choices while they’re still in our house so they can fail while they’re still under our roof, and learn those hard lessons, and learn how to go to God for the right way to do things.
Dennis: That’s right; and allowing God, in His grace, to take the mistakes they make—and I’m going to add something here—and the mistakes you make by being controlling—
Nicole: Right; right.
Dennis: —because there are issues that are going to be caused in our kids’ lives if we’re too controlling of the kids. It’s God’s grace, in that situation, that can be used in the child’s life to help them grow up and press into adulthood.
Nicole: I remember reading somewhere a long time ago—and it was just this little comment—but it said, “If your Heavenly Father has as many problems with His children as He does, don’t you think you might have some with yours?”—meaning: “Is it not that our Heavenly Father has determined to give us the freedom to make decisions that are not always wise? And that we will live in some foolishness, but it’s in His great glory that He can bring those things around. He’s the only One who can sow good out of something that was meant for harm.”
Nicole: You know, it’s in Genesis 50, when Joseph is talking to his brothers. He says, “What you intended for harm, God intended for good.”
Karen: And I think it’s really important—something that was said to me, once, when I was struggling with not being the perfect parent. I had made a series of mistakes. My friend, Lisa, said to me, “Karen, if you were a perfect mom, your children would have no need for God.”
Karen: Sometimes, we think that by being perfect and never doing a misstep, and never giving wrong advice, that our kids are going to turn out well; but sometimes, they’ll learn to rely on us because we seem to have it all together and have all the answers.
Karen: We want them to learn to go to God for direction; and go to God, in prayer, for what they’re supposed to do in life; and go to God when they mess up. If they never see us admit that we mess up, how are they ever going to admit that they mess up?
Bob: Yes; how will they know to confess and repent if they don’t see Mom and Dad confessing and repenting?
Karen: Right; absolutely.
Bob: We have to get to Nicole controlling her husband. So, what does that look like?
Nicole: When it comes to men and women, or me and my husband, and this idea of controlling, I think we sort of alluded to it earlier about the motivation behind what you’re doing. A lot of times, this isn’t just about women over-speaking or sort of controlling action.
It’s also about women choosing not to confront because you’re managing the environment. You’re saying:
I’m going to be okay with this being this way because, in my desire for things to be a certain way, I want to create this environment of safety. For me, safety means that no one’s ever rocking the boat. I can control how I do that for the kids. So, I just won’t relate any more to my husband. He can go do his own thing, and I’ll do every single thing in this house to keep it together. My children never see us relate, as a husband and a wife, because I have given up on this being something good. I’m going to control this environment by just keeping the peace.
But maybe, I’ve got a snide comment there, and a disrespectful way of going about things there—it’s the eye-roll. Your kids are sitting right there and watching that go down.
I don’t want this to be just about women who, perhaps, do have a vocal personality or are willing to go there and have the fight; but it’s also about not being willing to go there. The motivation may be the same, at the root—this idea of taking a spacebar—is taking a break when you feel like you’re starting to sort of strive or spin about something.
Maybe, you’re finding yourself really torqued-up, internally, about whatever the thing is; and actually trying to pause for a minute and say, “Why am I trying to control this situation?”
Dennis: So, what’s a torqued-up situation look like with you and your husband?
Nicole: Well, I mean, a lot of times it might be, you know, who’s doing what or, maybe, a way that I feel like I’ve been wronged. “He didn’t get me.” You know, I was trying to say we need to spend more time together and he just—he shoved me off. So, then, I’m starting to go in my mind—and I’m creating a case for why I’m right about something. And then, all these other little complaints are going to come in too: “He always says this.”
He comes home—my husband likes to come home—and when he’s stressed, he starts vacuuming. I know—it’s so funny but—
Karen: Send him to my house. [Laughter]
Nicole: I know. That’s what every woman says to me: “Send him to my house.”
Karen: Well, mine does dishes. So, I can send him to your house.
Dennis: You say your husband vacuums when he feels stressed.
Nicole: Yes; he does. He does vacuum when he feels stressed. He appreciates order.
It’s very difficult for him to disconnect from work life and get to family life if there’s not order. His idea of order and my idea of order are slightly different.
Dennis: Especially with three kids.
Nicole: Yes. So, for me, it can be clean; but there can be things out, and that’s fine. For him, he wants order; and it’s very difficult for him to relax. For many years, I decided that was his problem, and he needed to get over it. And I found that that was not helpful. Over time—and this—I don’t do this well, at all—and I don’t do it perfectly, at all—but we started to have a conversation, where I said: “If there was a place in the house, that felt orderly to you when you came home, would that be helpful? So if our bedroom is a place that I really try to keep order there, in that place—and could you go there for ten minutes, after work, and change or whatever—would that be a way to relax?—because I don’t think that I can meet your expectation.”
But that’s after years of struggling. The first part of it was getting all torqued-up: “He expects ridiculous things,” and “What he wants—I’m never going to be able to give him,” and “I just can’t be enough for him!”
That’s what I’m talking about—that torqued-up internal conversation—
Nicole: —that you’re having, as you sort of make a case for why you’re right.
Dennis: And we keep building that case, and you keep digging a trench. It can become a deep trench.
Nicole: Oh, yes; it can. There was this one time in our marriage where I was so frustrated every time I went through our garage area on the way out to the driveway. I was so mad at Dave, and I didn’t even know why. I just was frustrated! It didn’t matter if it was my stuff, or his stuff, or the kids’ stuff—I was just really frustrated, always at him.
So, I was going through the garage. We were in a Bible study—it was a marriage Bible study. It was kind of a life group. Our mentor couple said, “What’s one thing that you believe is a rule / an unspoken rule that your husband probably has no idea what it is?” I made that connection between the garage and the unspoken rule—it was: “My dad always cleaned the garage. Every time I go through here, I think to myself, ‘You should be cleaning the garage.’ I never told you that, and I am so sorry that I’ve been frustrated at you because I was operating from a belief that the man is supposed to organize the garage.”
“I never told you, and I don’t even know if I want us to believe that.” [Laughter]
But that is an example of a belief system that we can—an unspoken rule—we can be living by, that we’re not even aware of, if we don’t slow down / take that spacebar: “What is this teaching me about what I believe?”
Bob: Okay; I think we have sufficiently demonstrated, in these interviews, that control might be an issue for some people; okay?
Bob: So here’s the question. Karen—you alluded to the fact that there is some empirical evidence that you have a younger child who does not seem to notice the tendencies in you that your older kids notice—that, maybe, you’ve made some progress in this area in your life. What have you done to get better? How have you gotten to break the control issue in your life?
Karen: I think the thing that helped me the most was when my friend, Lisa, dared me—she’s a fellow control freak—to not make any decisions for three weeks / no decisions at all. That meant, if we’re all traveling down the road and—
Dennis: You became totally passive?
Karen: I did! For three weeks and three weeks only, Dennis! But we—
Dennis: I’ve not known you long but that—that had to be torture! [Laughter]
Karen: Well, what—
Bob: That’s the Olympics for you—I’m thinking. [Laughter]
Karen: Well, even if it came to—we’re all driving down the road and going to decide what place to eat for fast food as we’re on a trip / on a vacation—I would say, “I’ve no opinion in the matter.” Now, I had a great opinion in the matter—I knew the Weight Watcher®’s menu. I knew how many points were in everything at those fast food places. I knew I wanted to go to Taco Bell®, but they all wanted to go to Burger King® or wherever it was.
So I, for three weeks, did not make any decisions—I just said, “I have no opinion in the matter.” If it was something—of course, if it was deciding what outfit to wear that day, I decided about that, but when there were decisions being made by multiple people, I checked out and said: “Do what you want. I’ve no opinion in the matter.”
Now, what made this extremely painful is that this three-week dare came right smack during the holiday season. It was time to decorate the home for the holidays.
My 12 year-old Spencer is an all-over-the-map, crazy, kind of artistic kind. He decided that he wanted to help with the decorations. None of the other kids wanted to—they weren’t home—and my husband was gone at work. Because I couldn’t make any decisions, I let Spencer take the lead and decorate the exterior of the house, the tree, and the interior of the house any way he wanted to.
Bob: You are biting your tongue big time!
Karen: Oh, man! You must know, I am—[Laughter]
Bob: [Biting the tongue while speaking] “I have no opinion in the matter.” I can hear it now. [Laughter]
Karen: I still have the scar, I think.
But, what made this extremely painful is that I have very strong opinions about what the house should look like at Christmas. I have bins of decorations, labeled with exactly where they go—on which mantel, on which floor, on which tree, on which bush.
Karen: I know exactly, because I don’t like to have excess stuff in my house.
Dennis: We’re talking about control!
Karen: A little bit. So I had these bins, and I pulled them out. He didn’t read anything on the side! He just started going at it! He thought he should have some blinking lights, some non-blinking, some colored, some white—no rhyme or reason to it.
I said we had a little bit of a budget—we could go out and buy a few new things. Now, I would have gone to a nice antique store and gotten some retro—kind of 1950s-looking decorations to put in the house—or scatter some post cards on the coffee table.
Karen: Oh no! He went to the dollar store and bought the most hideous candy canes I’ve ever seen, that lit up, and we put them along our walkway.
Nicole: You’re not bitter; are you? You sound like it was totally fine with you. [Laughter]
Karen: Oh, our house was just a disaster—I thought, “No sane woman has a house that looks like this when people drive by”; but, apparently, I’ve been declared “insane” because I let him do it.
Even when we got to the interior of the house, I thought, “Maybe he’ll back off and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to decorate anymore, Mom. You can do the tree.’” Oh no! He wanted to clump ornaments here together instead of evenly spaced-out. Again, no rhyme and reason to anything that he did.
But when we were done, and we were sitting on the couch, I was enjoying a cup of coffee / he was enjoying some hot cocoa. Of course, I was kind of scheming, “Should I kind of say something that’ll make him let me rearrange it?” But I didn’t. I sat there and let him play the music he wanted—you know, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer instead of, you know, Josh Groban—like I wanted to play. [Laughter]
I sat there, still, in my mind, trying to figure out how I could go back and get my way. He looked at me, with the most beautiful look on his content face, and said: “Mom, today was the funnest day ever. I love you!”
Karen: And that was worth it—to hear my child express his love to me—that, for once, I let him have an opinion in the matter. For once, I didn’t micro-manage. For once, I thought he had a good idea!—because that’s how I spun it to him: “Hey, great idea! Sure!” Inside, I’m like, “I can’t believe he’s doing this!” [Laughter]
But I still look back to that Christmas. That Christmas was the most memorable Christmas ever. I stuck to my decision-making fast all through Christmas. I didn’t have an opinion about what cookies we would make or what we would serve for Christmas dinner—I let the kids pick all of it. They still think of that as the best Christmas ever because they got to have a say in the matter.
Because how it had gone before on decorating night was Mom barking out orders.
Everybody helped for about 20 minutes. Then, they all split the seasonal scene and went to a different place in the house because no one wanted to be around Mom because she was so picky about what the decorations looked like.
Now, fast-forward to today—it’s been three/four years now—I don’t have to have it perfect. I don’t always just let him do whatever—he’s not really into that anymore—but I’ve kind of scaled back. I ask people if they want to help. If they do, I don’t correct them. I just let them put it out. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go from the right—or doesn’t come from the right bin—that was labeled where exactly it should go. I’ve relaxed a lot more and realized that people and relationships are much more important than me getting my own way with what the house looks like.
Because, at the root of that was: “Why did I have to have the house look a certain way? Was it really because I liked it that way?” Kind of, but really it was more so that I could impress everybody with how great my house looked. I would rather have happy, content children, who know that they’re a part of this family, and they’re wanted, and they’re loved, and their opinions matter, than have a house that looks like it came out of a magazine.
Dennis: So, the challenge to all of our listeners, to deal with control—
Bob: Three weeks?
Dennis: —is to go cold turkey.
Karen: It is, if it’s a real issue.
Dennis: It is rehab.
Karen: It is.
Dennis: It really is—get off the drug, see how bad things really are, and then, observe, and listen; and keep biting your tongue.
Karen: And look at your own self and your own heart, at the end of that—that three-week fast—I realized that I was not so on-edge. I was not so bossy. I felt like my relationships in my family were calmer. My kids’ contributions and my husband’s opinions became endearing to me instead of annoying to me. [Laughter]
It was a lot less work, actually, for me to not have to always be in control. I don’t think we—women or men who struggle with this—realize that, when we have to be in control of everything and we never delegate anything, we just make more work for ourselves!
Dennis: Okay; I want all of our listeners who do this—who go three weeks—we’re talking tough dealing—
—to go to our Facebook® page, FamilyLife Today—
Bob: —say, “I’m in for the next three weeks.”
Dennis: “I’m in,” and then, report back at the end of the three weeks your two-paragraph summary, along with your favorite takeaway from the three weeks. We’ll see what happens.
Bob: We’ve got to take some time, before we’re done, to find out from Nicole: “You have gotten better in this area?”
Nicole: I’m not sure, but I know that I’ve learned a lot about surrendering my way to God’s way. So my takeaway for the listeners is just a simple exercise—just a way to start your day. You can just put your hands down, with your palms facing down, and just pray to the Lord, with your palms facing down, thinking about the things that belong in His arena, which is pretty much your whole life: “Lord, I surrender—this person, this situation, this circumstance, this thing that I really want to go a certain way, this desire, this dream,” or whatever that is. It just might be a few seconds every day, but it’s an expression of, “I want the Lord to actually be the Lord of my life every single day.”
Bob: What is the palms down?—why palms down?
Nicole: Palms down—drop it / drop it. I’ve prayed before and found my fingers curling—as I’ve just left my hands there, and as I’ve detailed out some of those things, in the Lord’s presence, I’ve felt my fingers curling—just really letting your hands open.
Then you just turn your hands up—so your palms are facing up—and just pray: “Lord, I want to receive Your goodness today. I want to receive Your mercy and Your Lordship in my life. I want You to be the Boss of my life.”
Dennis: Have you just described Chapter 4: “Surrendering the Kung-Fu Control Grip”?
Nicole: I have; yes!
Dennis: Oh. This was revealed right here on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: This is powerful. If you do “Surrendering the Kung-Fu Control Grip,” add your name—
Bob: —to the Facebook page?
Dennis: —to the FamilyLife Today Facebook page.
Bob: What if you do both?—no decisions plus the Kung-Fu thing.
Dennis: [Whistle] That’s serious!
Nicole: Well, you’re probably going to need the prayer if you’re actually going to try to go “no decisions.”
Karen: That’s right.
Nicole: You’re going to need daily or hourly help and strength.
Dennis: Well, ladies, you’ve given us a lot to think about and, certainly, some challenges. Three weeks! I’m really proud of you, Karen.
Nicole: That’s a long time.
Dennis: Karen, that’s quite the deal.
I hope folks will get their books. I really do. I think it’d make for some great reading, and they may need it in the midst of the three weeks.
Bob: Yes; these are the kind of books that you’d get and go through, maybe, with a group of girlfriends—all of you get together and read through these books. You can order either book from us at FamilyLifeToday.com. The one Nicole has written is called She’s Got Issues: Seriously Good News for Stressed-Out, Secretly Scared Control Freaks Like Us. And the one Karen Ehman has written is called Let. It. Go. I said it that way because there’s a period at the end of each word: Let. It. Go.: How to Stop Running the Show and Start Walking in Faith.
We’ve got both books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
You can go online—FamilyLifeToday.com is our website. You can order the books from us, online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order the books from us by phone. Once again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Phone number: 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, do you know what Jonathan and Danielle Gutiérrez were doing four years ago today? They live in Salinas, California. Four years ago today, they looked each other in the eye and they said, “I do,” and became husband and wife. Today is their fourth anniversary. We want to say, “Congratulations!” They listen to FamilyLife Today on KKMC. They’ve been to the Weekend to Remember®. In fact, they have hosted The Art of Marriage®. These guys are starting off right and getting their marriage foundation built well underneath them. “Congratulations!” to the Gutiérrezes.
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Now, we hope you have a great weekend! Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about how you can make your marriage and your family an emotionally safe place. Joshua Straub is going to be here to help us with that. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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