I don't control my children, but yesterday we had an exasperating morning. 

My three kids and I got up early—but ended up getting to school late. (And without my son’s lunch box, of course.) We talked about expectations for good behavior and gentleness, but had fistfights and frustration before breakfast even began. I reached out to connect with my son before preschool drop off, but he pushed me away.

I did everything I knew of to lovingly guide my children to positive behavior, but it didn’t matter.

My 1, 3 and 5-year-olds were at turns stubborn, distracted, frustrated, engrossed in a book, gleefully looking for things to destroy, and rambunctiously embodying all that is age three. And they refused to put their shoes on.

As I tried to find my inner calm on our way out the door, a truth washed over me: I do my best, but I don’t control my children.

It’s freeing to realize, isn’t it?

My children aren’t me. They are—forever—themselves. That makes my role as their mother not to force them to be exactly who I want, when I want it—but to help them to flourish into the best version of themselves.

I am their first guide through life—but I dont control my children.

I set out expectations. I remind them of when we need to leave. I give warnings about transitions. I guide my son through the plan for the day. I make clear that he has three minutes to put his shoes on, and needs to carry his backpack to the classroom. I let my older son know what housework I need him to do—and why.

Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t.

I give them clear guidance on what I expect—but I don’t control my child.

I love, I protect, I nurture, I worry. I make sure vaccinations are given on time and teach how to look both ways before you cross the street. We talk about private parts and good secrets vs. bad secrets and why mommy and daddy will always help you—no matter what. I pray that God keeps them safe and worry about invisible dangers that are unlikely to ever strike.

But fate knows what I do not.

I try to keep my child as safe as I possibly can— but I don’t control my child.

I strive to parent positively. I invest deliberate time in connecting and nurturing, in getting on their level and following their interests. If they need space, I give it. If they seem thirsty for attention, I reach out for connection. I try to prevent bad behavior by removing needless temptation, tempering expectations and making sure they eat well and get enough sleep.

But each child’s needs are different and constantly changing.

I parent the best way I know how—but I don’t control my child.

I dream of my children succeeding in their careers. I imagine “Ph.D., Harvard” next to their names (#proudmom). I hope to give them the best education possible and to cultivate the grit to get them there. We sacrifice large chunks of our paychecks to give them the best opportunities to expand their minds. We spend weekends doing science experiments, going on outings, and reading books together.

But their educational and professional path, I know, is theirs to choose.

I can give them all the opportunity I am able—but I don’t control my child.

I teach right from wrong. We talk about being role models. I empathize when they feel tempted to make the wrong decision, and encourage them to choose the right. I correct bad behavior and talk about empathy in toddler-specific ways. “That makes your brother feel sad and hurt when you hit him.” I want them to learn to do the right thing for the right reasons.

But the world is complex and tempting, and they may learn some lessons the hard way.

I teach them right from wrong—but I don’t control my child.

I give them choices. I celebrate their independence. “Responsibilities before privileges” is a mantra my kids can repeat. They know their small but important roles in keeping their things organized and our home running (somewhat) smoothly.

But sometimes they have deeper needs or would much rather have mom and dad do everything for them. (Wouldn’t we all?)

I can encourage independence—but I don’t control my child.

When I was first pregnant, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I imagined all the things I would do with this tiny, growing person, and daydreamed about who I would want them to become. I picked a name that felt right to me and decorated a nursery that reflected my style for my child. I had a vision in my head of who these tiny people would become.

But my children aren’t who I thought they would be. They are uniquely themselves—complicated, miraculous, fascinating creatures.

They are deeply dependent on me now, but if I do my job right, they will gradually, and then quickly, detach themselves from me and my husband, seldom looking back. It’s a natural, beautiful, painful process. And doing it right can look like struggle and heartache, frustration and even loss.

I can be the best mother I can possibly be—but I don’t control my child. That, I’m slowly discovering, is the beauty and pain of it all.