First let’s compare a “control attitude” with a “serendipity attitude,” and then let's think about how each can apply to parenting—so you can decide for yourself which type of these two types of a parent you would rather be.
The Attitude of Control
Oh, how we long for Control. We try to control the events of our day by making lists and checking them off. We try to control our children by disciplining and rewarding them. We try to control our destiny by deciding who and where and what we will become. And when things go a different direction than our plans and our lists and our goals, we feel frustration and stress.
But think about it. What do you really control? You are one tiny individual in a world full of forces and circumstances that operate completely apart from your will. Think about the folly of trying to control everything. Life is essentially unpredictable. It happens; little of it is within our control. The measure of our success and happiness lies not in controlling what happens, but in how we handle and respond to what happens. Constantly trying to control what can’t be controlled is a recipe for stress and frustration.
Of course it’s good to control our checkbooks and our emotions. But when our desire for control goes beyond the basics, it quickly becomes problematic.
Would you really like to control your life and the lives of those around you, or is that control better left to God?
The history of the quest for control is essentially the history of the world. Human beings seem hard-wired with the desire to control things around them. This internal programming has probably saved our lives individually and collectively. However, in recent history, the instinct to control has been institutionalized by the whole industry of time management and goal-setting and by the notion that control is what can bring us happiness. The sound notion of setting goals and making plans and controlling oneself gets expanded into the false idea that we should be able to control and manage everything (and everyone) around us. In reality, we have control of a tiny island of things around which swirls a huge sea of uncontrollability and unpredictability. Our challenge is not to control the ocean, but to see its beauty and appreciate and learn how best to ride on its waves and currents.
In the control mode, surprises annoy or irritate us because they may prevent our day from going exactly as we had planned. Our friends annoy us because they don't do things the way we would. Our children annoy us because they don't seem to want to do exactly what we want them to, or be quite what we want them to be, or to be interested in just what we think should interest them. And days when we don't get everything checked off of our list get chalked up as failures because we have defined success as control.
Striving to control our emotions, our appetites, and our habits is good and praiseworthy. However, we must strive with equal diligence to acknowledge that we are fragile and vulnerable and need help in everything we do, even our most personal improvement goals. It is essential to understand that we have the power of choice and that we can expend it on our own appetites or harness and bridle it to serve the greater good.
Bottom line: There must be a better and more accurate attitude than Control!
So let’s think about a Serendipity Attitude
The word was coined by a 19th century English author named Horace Walpole who loved an ancient Persian fable called “The Three Princes of Serendip” (“Serendip” was the early name of the beautiful, teardrop-shaped island off the southern tip of India that the British called Ceylon and that we, today, call Sri Lanka.)
In the fable, each of the three princes sets out in search of his fortune. None of them actually finds a fortune, but all of them, through their extraordinary awareness and perception, find things that are better than a fortune: love, truth, and opportunities to serve. They are able to make these discoveries because they notice things that other people miss, and thus discover unexpected joys and opportunities.
Walpole, reading the fable, said to himself, “We do not have an English word that expresses that happy ability to find things that are better than what we think we are looking for.” So, he made up the word “Serendipity”, and defined it as follows:
“A state of mind whereby a person, by good fortune and through awareness and sensitivity, frequently finds something better than that which he is seeking.”
Serendipity gets even more interesting when the spiritual dimension is brought in. We can strive to be more aware and observant not only by way of our five senses, but also through our intuition and spiritual sensitivity. As we strive to become more attuned to the feelings of our soul, things come to us via impressions, “nudges,” promptings, hunches, and inspiration. Through these we become more in touch with what is really going on around us, and we begin to see things in a more complete and insightful way. In this spiritual dimension, serendipities become what scripture sometimes calls “tender mercies” and we begin to perceive the unexpected (and certainly beyond-our-control) blessings that a higher consciousness might put before us every day.
An enhanced, spiritual definition of Serendipity then, would be “A state of mind and spirit wherein we strive for awareness of divine blessings, purpose and will. As we go about our lives and seek our goals, we try to notice all that is around us and inside us, happy for the adventure and spontaneity of life and willing to detour or depart from our plans as we become aware of something better.”
The fact is that we control so very little—most is beyond and above our control, and yet unexpected opportunities, circumstances and blessings are all around us, along with incredible beauties, and we need only the awareness and spiritual sensitivity to notice them. We can cultivate this awareness, and we can ask for it. As we do, we use our agency to take the spiritual initiative that allows the divine to bless us in ways we could never have planned and to prompt us in directions we never would have thought of. This kind of subliminal guidance is infinitely more valuable and more worthy of our desire than our own personal control. And Serendipity is the mind-state or paradigm that can attract these gifts.
Be a Serendipity Parent, Not a Controlling Parent
Controlling parents try to manage all of their children’s actions, thoughts, ambitions, and behavior, to make their decisions for them, and to turn them into their version of what they should be. They often lose their kids or force them to rebel.
Serendipity parents observe and notice who their children really are and recognize and support their unique gifts and attributes; they see teaching moments and find opportunities to ask involving questions and to motivate kids to plan their own lives and make their own choices.
Of course, good parents have goals for what they want to teach their children, and to some extent for what they want their children to become, but if we become too obsessed with our wants for our kids, we can become control freaks and do more harm than good.
Instead, if we can train ourselves to be sensitive and aware enough to notice our kids’ unique gifts and potential, we will find ways to help them grow into their own best selves, and we will enjoy this kind of parenting much more than the controlling kind.
For more insight and practical ideas on how to make the shift from control to serendipity, you are invited to the Podcast:
And if you want to read the whole book on Serendipity, Stewardship, and Synergicity, go to
By Richard and Linda Eyre