Shut the F**K Up (and the Beauty of the Death of Control)

Instead of being bossy, feel the vulnerability you seek to avoid by complaining and controlling. Give yourself a hug. Give your kid a hug. Shut the f**k up! Your kid doesn't need fixing.
01/11/2013 07:08 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2014
an angry and very frustrated...
an angry and very frustrated...

Excerpted from author Richard Melnick's "PARENTS WHO DON'T DO DISHES."

Last fall, I had a spirited conversation with my good friend Robin Cox, the mother of twin 10-year-old boys. We were discussing how to respect individual sovereignty, manage reactivity, encourage service around the house, provide effective consequences, offer compassion and empathy without needing to fix anythin and how to use precise and conscious language. At some point, to get her attention, I exclaimed, "I'm going to write a book called Parents Who Don't Do Dishes!"

Eventually, Robin had an epiphany -- that by setting good boundaries for herself, letting life flow without yelling and cajoling, without her need to have things just so, she witnessed what she called, "the beauty of the death of control."

Why not let go of worrying about what your kids need next? You're not ultimately in control, anyway. As I told Robin that morning, the future will take care of itself in the most delightful ways (think Mary Poppins) if you can learn to let go of your agenda and simply shut the f**k up. Sorry, but that's what it took for Robin to hear me. I don't normally speak like that and said it to her most unexpectedly and quite cheerfully. I said it for shock value and to add emphasis to my petition. Robin was rightly offended, but it was shortly thereafter that she had her epiphany.

I had second thoughts about writing this, as I know it may offend some readers, though it seems to me that it's only this kind of vulgarity that adequately speaks to the obscene practice of bossing your kid around as if you knew what your kid needs to do or think. Micro-managing your kid is deeply offensive and a huge spiritual, emotional and practical mistake. I know, because I made it with my son Josh. I also think it something of a litmus test: If you don't see any wisdom in my salty suggestion, then like my dear, sweet friend Robin, it was written justly for you.

When I was between the ages of 10 and 13, I was chubby and this was very painful for me. It affected my self-esteem and kids teased me. When my son Josh began to gain extra weight at a similar age, I projected my own experience onto him. I cajoled him to eat healthy and get more exercise and badgered my ex-wife Alice to provide low-sugar, low fat, healthy food at her house. If he wanted dessert, I might give him a questioning look of disapproval. He resented me. He became self-conscious. He thought I was a dick. I knew it was wrong of me, yet I couldn't control myself. I even told him at the time why it was such a charged issue for me, but it was no excuse for my boorish behavior.

Eventually, Josh received a lecture from his hockey coach to get in better shape, which he did, and last year, Josh's hockey team made it to the state championship. Josh has forgiven me for not having successfully managed my own unresolved pain and I love him all the more for his open heart. He understands my humanness and the parenting mistakes I make because of it. I wish I'd stayed out of his face and allowed him to grow at his own pace.

Instead of being bossy, feel the vulnerability you seek to avoid by complaining and controlling. Give yourself a hug. Give your kid a hug. Shut the f**k up! Like Josh, your kid doesn't need fixing.

Robin now wears an unusual bracelet to remind herself to chill out. She says:

I've taken to wearing a horrendous bracelet made of fluorescent beads -- a nuclear warning system on my wrist as a reminder to stay vigilant at not telling them what to do and managing my reactivity. I don't wear it every day, but it's always on the dresser, a hideous reminder... to give up the control. That's the bottom line. I've just chosen in the last month to do things differently, to say things a little differently. If it's not on my timetable, it's OK, it gets done. With the changing of my language and giving up that things have to be my way, my life has changed dramatically for the better. Last week, I was asked if this practice had changed anything with my husband, and that same day I went home and everything was done. The bathroom was clean, the dishes were done, the house swept and vacuumed. I was almost in shock.

Alternatively, you could wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it before foolishly snapping at someone else.