The Secret Life of a Control Freak Mama

October 5, 2016

If I had only one word to describe my yoga classes it would be creative. If had had 2 more words, they’d be playful and humorous, if borderline irreverent. I pride myself on my ability to skillfully sequence my yoga classes, while weaving in sneaky puns and ridiculous jokes that I’ve been telling for over 10 years but are still hilariously funny (at least to me and the people who haven’t heard them yet). I’m also constantly looking for new approaches to familiar poses, as well as working in functional and playful movement to keep things fresh.

Recently, another teacher attended one of my yoga classes.

Hey yoga background is different from mine and while I taught class, she frequently opted to do several poses I was not instructing, as well as move in a different way than I was teaching. I don’t usually have a problem with this, unless it becomes distracting or dangerous. In one instance, it was both and I told her to come out of the pose because I wasn’t teaching it for a reason. The pose in question is challenging for many people and I hadn’t prepared the entire group for this pose, so I felt it was inappropriate for her to do it if everyone else wasn’t.

Later that day, I received an email from this teacher.

She accused me of compromising safe space and of teaching a class that did not allow for self-expression.

Basically, I harshed her yoga buzz because I didn’t accommodate her need for uninhibited playful movement.

Her email took me aback.

First, creating and harboring safe space in a yoga class is a priority for me. I work hard to ensure that everyone is safe and feels welcome, no matter what they bring with them energetically or physically.

What really got me, though, was her comment about playfulness.

I really bristled at that one.

I’ve had people make all kinds of comments, both positive and less positive, about the yoga classes I teach. A lack of playfulness has NEVER been among them. In fact, one of the most common positive comments I receive is that people feel super comfortable in my classes because I approach yoga from a light-hearted and humorous place, while still keeping the asana instruction clear, well-paced, and with conscious attention to alignment.

So I tried to take her comment with a grain of salt, brush it off, and move on.

But I couldn’t.

Her comments nagged at me.

“What do you mean, I’m not playful? I am super playful! Creative self-expression is my jam. This is your shit not mine.”

Except I realized that it’s not just hers.

It’s my shit, too.

As a parent, allowing for playfulness or being playful with my daughter is one of my greatest struggles. I can chalk it up to the fact that I am currently solo parenting my kids and I work from home a lot of the time and I feel more stress than usual and I don’t get a break ever.

I could do that.

Or I could be honest with myself (and all of you) and acknowledge that control has always been one of my big issues.

Ugh. Even writing that out loud felt awful.

I don’t consider myself tightly wound. In my own home practice, I move in a free-flowing, creative, uninhibited way. I have a great sense of humor. I consider myself to be a playful and fun person. Ok…strike that last one. I used toconsider myself spontaneous and playful and fun. Then I had kids. And also tried to run my own business at the same time. Somewhere in between trying to keep the first one alive at all costs (she was slow to nurse and already tiny at birth) and scrambling postpartum to find new places to teach so I could do what I love AND pay the mortgage, I lost a little bit of my playfulness. When I realized I wanted to work more off the mat with busy mamas like me who got run down, run over, and lost in the act of everyday mothering, I added another layer of stress and snipped away another strand of playfulness. Then I got pregnant again. Snip, snip, snip.

Add to that a lifelong battle with the need to be in control of everything I could manage, but most especially my body, what I put into it, and how I used it.

Being out of control is uncomfortable but being unhealthy is worse. As I healed some of those initial control struggles with my weight and how my body looked from the outside, I started to shift my need for control to others, specifically to those I was in relationship with. As you can imagine, some of those relationships didn’t survive. I thought I learned my lesson, but then I had kids.

Part of my need to control what my kids are doing is in part to help keep them safe. I set rules about waiting for mommy and holding hands before going into the street. Or not jumping in the bathtub.

The other part of my need to control isn’t about safety. It’s a little uglier. It’s the need to have things done my way and to be in charge. It’s to keep things more orderly and less chaotic. In my mind this made things easier. In reality it led to more yelling and more tears and more outbursts from my rebellious 3 year old.

The good news is that I am doing a great job of attending to my own basic self-care needs and to the basic care needs of my kids.

The less good news, is that I have almost completely lost my ability to relate to my 3 year old on her level. I’m so bound up in the stress of getting through each day, trying to make ends meet and change the world one mama at a time, that having fun feels like a chore.

And it breaks my heart.

The truth is that I didn’t realize any of this until that yoga teacher accused me of not allowing her to play in my class. While the rules in yoga and life are a bit different, her comment got under my skin and forced me to face the reality of my current relationship with playfulness, as well as my relationship with my daughter.

Being a parent is so hard.

One of the primary elements that parenting and yoga share is the idea of balance.

Balance isn’t synonymous with perfect. Balance is a constant shifting back and forth. Some days are easier, while others feel unbearably difficult. Some poses are challenging one day and easy the next. Balance requires a push and pull in order to maintain equilibrium.

I don’t want to give up the work I do. I feel called to do this. I feel passionate about helping other mamas learn how to take great care of themselves and put their own needs on the same level as their kids needs. I also feel passionate about making sure my kids actually enjoy their childhood and spending time with me. I don’t want to be glued to my computer. I don’t want to be so stressed about making ends meet that I sacrifice their joy.

I don’t have the answers yet. I do know that by putting this out there and acknowledging this very uncomfortable truth, I am one big step closer to regaining the playfulness and silliness and joy that I know I can have with my kids.

I do know that I have to loosen the reins a bit. I need to follow Milly’s lead a little more, and Archer’s when he is a bit older. I need to aim for balance, not tip the scales in favor of my need for control.

So thank you to the teacher who put the mirror up. I didn’t like what I saw – not so much in my choices in that class or as a yoga teacher, but as a mama, which is far more important.

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