More Caring, Less Fixing—A Key to Enhancing Relationships

More Caring, Less Fixing—A Key to Enhancing Relationships with your Children and Partner I am a fixer. And being a fixer is a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing to be able to edit my children’s writing assignments with confidence, yet it’s a curse when I am unable to just look at their writing as a work of art, which is uniquely theirs, not needing to be fixed. It is a blessing when one of my children comes to me with a problem that needs solving and I can help them process, analyze trouble-shoot until we find a solution. It’s a curse when I see one of my children struggling with an issue, and they insist on NOT needing or wanting my help—not even just a little—and my tongue becomes nearly bloody from trying to bite it.

When I see problems in my relationship with my husband—hello Bob the Builder. The tools come out and I start peeling,  scraping and pounding, “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? He needs to change. I need to change. And we have to do all of this changing…right now.” When I see a friend who has a problem, the “I want to help you, I need to help you” voice takes hold, and a fixer-upper project begins. While sometimes my desire to help can be constructive, sometimes it can be hurtful, especially when my friend just wants to heard, not fixed. And with myself, well, that is the biggest, most daunting project of all, as there is a constant stream of “what needs to be fixed” questions flowing through my head.

Wearing a hard hat can come in handy sometimes. It keeps me hyper-aware of all the “work” that needs to be done, within myself and with those around me. I am constantly trying to better myself, take on more projects and challenges, and I am often a good motivator of others to do the same. But given the recent studying and volunteer work I have been doing, I’ve learned that being a fixer can be unnecessarily draining, frustrating and ineffective. Because in reality, being a fixer often means that we start with the premise that people (myself at the top of the list) are broken.

On my recent Smile Network mission, our main purpose was to repair children’s cleft lips and palettes. Of course I loved this because it was a “fixing” mission. What I realized, however, was that even though these children needed their mouths repaired, they were not broken people. Their families loved and cared for them exactly as they were. Parents knew that the surgery would help their child find more acceptance in society, and in some extreme cases, it would save their life. But when I witnessed how the mothers gazed lovingly and adoringly into their child’s eyes; the way they held, protected and comforted their child, I realized that these mothers did not think their child was broken. They were at the hospital to have a doctor fix their child’s lip and palette, not their soul. Because these mothers unconditionally loved their children, and would love them no more or no less once they were “fixed.”

None of us are perfect and we all require some tweaking along the way, but if we start with the belief that we are whole and good, then it would make a lot of sense for me to hang up my tool belt and embrace the imperfections in myself and in others. I'm inspired to trade in my hammer and nails and utilize more love, acceptance and support in my relationships with my spouse, children, friends, family members and myself.

The Agonizing Necessity of Letting Your Child Fail

PositiveWaysFailureAffectsMindThere is no getting around it, even though you may try to shield them from it, and find ways for them to avoid it, your kids will at some point have to face the dreaded agony of failure. For most moms, myself included, whether we admit it or not, when we see our children experiencing failure or disappointment, it feels like the sky is crashing down on both them and us. And sometimes, probably more often than not, we feel the pain even deeper than our children do. In most cases, our children bounce back from their disappointments relatively quickly, and yet we often stay stuck in them for way longer than we know is necessary or appropriate. Furthermore, many well-intentioned mothers, in an effort to try to “spare” their children from having to deal with failure, will go to borderline crazy lengths to assure that their child’s “fall from grace” will be cushioned or avoided all together.

Question to ponder:

What does it feel like to witness your child experience failure?

And even deeper:

Do you feel that your child’s failure a reflection on you as a mother?

Lately I have heard so many moms talk about their successes or failures of their children in a way that it is difficult to decipher who’s is who’s. I recently texted a friend to see how she was doing and she responded that her daughter made the varsity soccer team and her son had lost his tennis match. I wanted to respond, "But wait, I really wanted to know how YOU are doing!" Can we, as mothers, separate our identities from our children’s?

Before I go any further, I have to write a disclaimer: Anyone who knows me knows that I am as guilty as the next mom of allowing my entire being to be directly and significantly affected by what is happening (or not happening) in my children’s lives. I ride the crazy train with my kids and have a first class seat on that well know parenting helicopter that so many of us ride. I obsess about whether they will make a sports team, do well on their tests at school, be asked to a dance or be admitted to their college of choice.  Having said that, I am actually working on this issue within myself right now, so I have become hyper-aware of my own hovering and somewhat controlling nature, as well as that of so many of the lovely moms in my life.

As I dissect this issue of mothers being somewhat unhealthily enmeshed in their children’s lives, I start with a seemingly simple, yet extremely complicated question: Why? Sometimes when my husband has reached his limit on listening to me go over and over and over my worries and concerns about a kid-related issue, he will just stop me dead in my tracks and say, “Why do you care so much? Maybe it would be good if you try to focus on something that you can control, or go do something for yourself instead of obsessing about an outcome over which you have ZERO control. You gotta stop worrying about the kids’ stuff. It’s theirs, not yours.”

Although there is a little sting to his directive, I know deep down that he is right (darn it!). He is encouraging me to give myself permission to let go. To trust that the chips will fall where they may for our four kids, and most importantly to trust that they will be ok, wherever their chips fall. And if their chips fall the “wrong” way, and they feel sad and defeated, then my husband and I will be there to love and support them, and to help them regain their footing so they can put their chips back on the table.

We moms have such a tough time with the letting go piece. From the moment we hold them in our arms as newborns, we are programmed to “make it all better” for our kids. We make it our life’s work to make life good and safe and happy for them. But thankfully, Wendy Mogel (Blessings of a Skinned Knee and Blessings of a B-) comes along and beautifully teaches us how kids must fail in order to grow.  She explains that we are doing our children and ourselves a major disservice by not allowing them to experience failures and disappointments. When mothers don’t set clear boundaries with their children, and take on too much of their children’s “stuff,” they run the risk their children developing this line of thinking:

“I don’t really have to care, or feel anything about whether or not I make the team, make a bad decision, or get an A or a D on my test because my mom is taking it all on. Therefore, I am not even really accountable for my actions or inactions, because mom’s got me covered.”

Some moms, (myself included, on a few occasions), will actually not only take on their children’s successes or failures emotionally but will go a step further. They will intervene. They will call a coach, a teacher or an admissions director and threaten, question, manipulate, and even beg or bribe the person in the decision-making position to give their child what she “ABSOLUTELY DESERVES!!!” Okay, this is probably a good time for mom to step back, be very honest with herself, and figure out whether this is about her or about her child.  This type of behavior sends an even scarier and potentially hazardous message to her child, which could sound like:

“You are not capable of accomplishing your goal/s on your own and therefore you need me to step in and take care of it for you.”

This deprives your child of learning the invaluable, character-building lessons that one learns from failing or falling short of a goal, with resiliency at the top of the list. It also could lead your child to feel that:

  • “My mom does not believe in me enough to let me figure things out for myself. I must be inadequate.”
  • “My mom cares more about whether I make the team or get the grade she expects me to get than she does about me as a person. She doesn’t love me for who I am, she loves me for what I do. Therefore if I come up short of her expectations, she won’t love me.”

Confession: My daughter got a B- on a paper her senior year. She is a fantastic writer and that was not a typical grade for her on any type of writing assignment. I am friendly with her teacher and when I saw him at her school one day, I said casually, “Hey, why did you give Sophie a B- on her last paper?” He stopped, looked at me straight in the eyes and said in a very serious tone, “Because I knew it was not her best work. She knows she can talk to me about it if she would like.”

Yikes! I cannot even begin to explain the scolding I received from my daughter when I crawled out of my shame hole a few days later and told her about it. “Mom! I wasn’t really bothered by it. It wasn’t my best work. I can’t believe you did that! Why would you do that?!”

With helicopter parents attending job interviews with their children http://huff.to/18cx1PG and micromanaging their every move, it is hard not to get sucked into thinking that being overly involved in your children’s lives is a way of showing your children that you care. It’s difficult to draw the line and know when it’s ok to advocate for your child, and when you need to bite your tongue and/or detach yourself from their “stuff.”

Next time you want to step in and try to prevent your child from failing or facing disappointment, take a moment to sort out your own feelings, and ask yourself:

What am I afraid of?

The Judging of Motherhood

I think it is safe to say that most writers/bloggers live in a state of vulnerability. The process of writing and sharing your musings with others sometimes feels like you are walking down the street stark naked. Furthermore, writing and blogging about your children as well as your innermost thoughts, feelings, doubts and uncertainties about yourself as a mother, takes this feeling of vulnerability and sends it through the roof. The stories that mothers share about how wonderful, cute, funny, ironic and brilliant their children feel good to write, and for the most part, to read (unless there is bragging all over it!). But the stories that reveal the ugly truths about your children and/or you as a parent are difficult to write, to share and often difficult to read. My recent blog post on teenage angst was featured on Mamapedia. As I read through the comments on the site, I was struck by one comment in particular. A mother of two grown children wrote,

“Sometimes I really feel that, as parents, we get what we expect to get. Why ‘terrible twos’? Why ‘difficult teens’? I believe that if you start from a place of UNCONDITIONAL love, MUTUAL respect and open communication (and are willing to be humble and say ‘sorry’ to your child if you've made a mistake) there's no reason to have to ‘suffer’ through any stage in our children's development.”

Immediately I felt like I had to defend myself. I wanted to call her and say, “But I was just venting! My teenagers are awesome and I am great mom and I DO LOVE MY KIDS UNCONDITIONALLY!! I just chose not write about that this time!”

I do believe my kids are wonderful human beings, and sometimes I write about all their goodness, and the glory I feel in being their mom. But sometimes I don’t. I feel that I have a responsibility as “Unscripted Mom” to reveal some of my innermost struggles as a mother and to explain how some of my children’s struggles and behaviors blips have affected both them and me. I do this in an effort to process some of my feelings but also to help other moms who may be feeling the exact same way to know that they are not alone.

I do not need to reveal intimate details of my children’s lives. I need to respect and honor them through my writing. But for me to divulge that my two oldest children’s teen years have been somewhat difficult for me need not be shameful. There has to be room and space to discuss this. To translate my admission that there have been times when my kids have disrespected me and that I feel a sense of calm having them away from home this summer to mean that I don’t love them unconditionally...well, that is certainly a stretch.

There is a fine line between venting about the frustrations you feel parenting your children and saying that you are “suffering” through their various rough spots. The truth is that your child may encounter a bump in the road and take his frustrations out on you. As much as you talk about and demand mutual respect during these times, sometimes there is a learning curve—for them and for you. And as you both ride the curve, there may be a certain amount of “suffering” that does occur. When you love your child desperately and see her struggle and/or act out, there is virtually no escape from feeling some kind of pain.

I don’t know a love that doesn’t involve a certain amount of suffering.

Are the twos “terrible?” Some days, yes, and many days, not at all. To admit the “terribleness,” does not mean that you love your children less than a mom who says, “My two-year-old is an angel, and even when she throws herself on the floor in the middle of the grocery store, I think she is absolutely, delightful and fabulous and I love being her mother every single screaming second.”  It is probably safe to say that most mothers who write and read about motherhood love their children more than they have ever loved another human being. We are all conscientious parents and want to raise good kids. However, despite sharing the same goal, none of us will have the same journey with our children. Some parents’ and some children’s journeys will be more bumpy than others. But how one describes the level of difficulty in raising their children has zero correlation to how much love one feels toward her children.

I did/do experience some angst raising my teenagers, and they also experience angst being teenagers.  I have enjoyed a little break from this angst as they have been away this summer.             But do I love them more than anything in the world? Yes. Do I miss them terribly? Yes. Are they great kids? Yes. Do I wonder if it is my fault that there is this angst? Sometimes. Have I ever apologized to my kids for making a mistake? Probably too often. Do I work my ass off every day to be the best mother I can possibly be? Yes. Have I had to look deep into my soul to try to discover why I cannot connect with my teens sometimes, why they disrespect me sometimes, and why I have tolerated it sometimes? Yes. Have I found answers? Some.

Do you want to judge me for admitting that being a mom is not always easy for me? For admitting that sometimes a break from them feels good? For the fact that my kids are sometimes edgy and combative? This is entirely up to you but please know that I have made it my life’s work not to judge you, and to provide you with my motherhood truths in an effort to foster a safe, nonjudgmental place where mothers can be sounding boards for one another. Hope you’ll join me.

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