I’m a control freak. I admit it. To me, there’s nothing worse than feeling helpless or unable to do anything to change a situation for the better. I’ll work my fingers to the bone any day instead of having to stand by and watch something beyond my control, especially if it is headed in a direction with which I do not agree. I think many people can identify with this need for control, and the problems it presents for the controller.
In reality, very few things are truly under our control. Take earthquakes and hurricanes, for instance: definitely beyond human control. Traffic, elections, taxes and temperature are all beyond our control. Guess what else can’t truly be controlled? OTHER PEOPLE!! This includes, but is not limited to: mothers, fathers, siblings, doctors, nurses, neighbors and friends. (Basically any and all people involved in the care of an aging parent.)
For a caregiver, especially one with a take charge personality, the need for control can cause much heartache and many frustrations. It’s interesting how often I forget how many things are out of my control. I go around fully expecting everything to go just as I command and when it doesn’t, I’m crushed! Kind of silly, isn’t it, to keep attempting to control things that I know are not controllable? But I do it all the time, and from what I know about most caregivers, I’m not the only one!
What if we “control freaks” let go? What if we never attempted to control the uncontrollable? Wouldn’t it save us a lot of frustration? Wouldn’t we be much happier?
I have a feeling the answer is yes. Here are a few strategies I’ve been considering:
1) Accept inevitable imperfection. Go ahead and reconcile yourself to the fact that other people will probably not do exactly as you expect. Go in knowing that appointments will be rescheduled, parties may be postponed, or new ideas may not go over well with everyone involved in the care of your loved one. Acknowledging from the start that most of your care situation is beyond your control could prepare you for the times when things just don’t go your way.
2) Be clear about what your responsibilities are. If you know well what you are responsible for and can do your best to carry out those duties, then you can stay focused in an area where you can actually make a difference. Are you in charge of finances? Ok! Then set up your financial system to the best of your ability and stay on top of it. Then when other areas may not go as well as you’d like, at least you can know what IS under control.
3) Focus on the good you do. We can’t control other people’s thoughts, actions, or words. All we can do is give our best effort and be at peace about the uncontrollable factors in our lives. Those uncontrollable things often have a way of working out for our good, but worrying doesn’t help the process along. We can celebrate the good things and revel in the progress we do make, knowing that we’ve done the best we could.
I’ve never seen anyone at the end of a caregiving journey who looked back and celebrated his or her ability to control a situation. When all is said and done, it’s the funny moments, the happy memories, and the labor of love we perform on behalf of our families that we cherish most. In light of the big picture, attempting to have control is really a waste of time, and when I think of it that way, control isn’t even what I truly want. What I truly want is a joyful life. And guess what? I don’t need control to have joy. Neither do you.