This is What Happens When You Stop Fixing Things for Your Kids

“I’ve got this!” – how many times in our lives have we thought or said this out loud?

As moms, we’ve said and thought this countless times – we do what needs to be done. When we’re juggling 25 things at once we go into autopilot – You need 40 cupcakes made for school tomorrow? I’ve got this. You need a ride to practice, help with homework, and a costume for your presentation? I’ve got this.

Yes, we delegate and plan ahead but when push comes to shove…I’ve got this because most of us are “Fixers” at heart – we’re programmed to do what needs to be done – in our work and personal lives. We don’t always stop to think, we just start organizing and getting it done.

I never gave it any thought until my older son stopped me one day.

My boys were doing their homework at the kitchen table, and my older son (5th grade at the time) was telling me how another boy in his class was bullying him. He was making fun of my son’s large feet (a size 14 at the time) and it clearly bothered my son.

When he finished I said, without thinking, “I’ve got this, I’ll send your teacher an email tonight. Then I’ll call her tomorrow and set up a meeting so we can discuss this.  Then, if it doesn’t stop I’ll…”

teen boy wearing backpack
We need to stop fixing things for our teens.

 

Teens want parents to listen to them, not fix their problems

My son gently interrupted my stream of “to do’s” and said “Mom, I’m not asking you to fix it. I just want to talk with you about it.”  Wow – what a lesson!  I cannot tell you how grateful I am that he was strong enough to stop me and to tell me that he wanted to handle it.

Instead of me taking over and “fixing it,” I thanked him for speaking up, we talked about how he felt and what he planned to do about it. I’m not always going to be there – he has to learn how to do difficult things for himself.

We all want our children to grow to be independent but how can they do this if we don’t give the chance to handle the tough stuff – the things they haven’t encountered before?  All I saw was that he was hurt, and I could make it better. I didn’t stop to think – I just wanted to take care of it.

He was so proud of himself the next day when he told me how he handled it.  He fixed it – he did it – not me. The way it should be. What if he hadn’t spoken up? In my effort to help, I would have ruined any chance for him to take care of himself.

How many times had he subtly tried to tell me this before?  How many times have our children sat there while we rambled on with solutions when all they really wanted was for someone to listen? He taught me such a valuable lesson – he taught me to stop and listen. Instead of “I’ve got this,” I had to learn “You’ve got this.”

Years later when he was in college, he called me from his car. He had me on his car speaker (the “squawk box” as we call it), and he was telling me about situation at school. I listened. I asked him what he was going to do about it. I didn’t immediately offer solutions. He told me his plan, we talked about his options and what he thought was the best way to handle it.

He called me later that day to say that his friend who was in the car with him at the time looked at him funny when he hung up our call.  My son asked him what he was thinking and his friend said

That was your mom?  You talk to each other like you’re friends. She didn’t start telling you what to do or asking you a million questions.  She listened to you. Your opinion mattered. I can’t imagine having that kind of conversation with my mom.

What his friend didn’t know was that if my son hadn’t stopped me all those years ago, that’s exactly what I would have done – and I may have even flown down there to handle it myself. My son told me he thought this was how all sons and moms talked – he realized that day that it wasn’t.

I reminded him of the middle school experience with bullying, and I thanked him again for speaking up.  We laughed about me always wanting to fix things and having to let that go.

We can learn so much about parenting from our children if we’re willing to listen. His younger brother benefitted from this revelation – how many times did I have to pause and ask questions (How do you feel about this? How do you think you should handle this?  How can I support you?)

I’ll admit – it doesn’t come naturally. My heart and mind still want to jump right in and make it better, but I’ve learned that sometimes our children just want to talk to someone they trust. They can handle more than we give them credit for – our first instinct may be to help and to protect but when we let them work it out, they learn and grow and become confident.

Moms are naturally Doers and Fixers. But really, who wants a grown son or daughter calling to proclaim – “You must take care of this because I can’t handle it!”?  None of us! We want to raise children who can think for themselves and take care of situations that will arise. If they want to consult with us, get our opinion or ask us to be a sounding board, lucky us.

If they genuinely have no idea what to do in particularly tough situation, we can help them figure it out. We can help them but we must resist the urge to take over. We have to understand when it’s time to move away from “I’ve got this!” to “You’ve got this!”

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About Tracy Hargen

Tracy Hargen is a Southern girl born and bred who did a stint in NY & NJ after meeting her Yankee husband. Having known each other a mere six months they eloped! With both their sons out of the house, they are empty nesters. Still at home are their two beloved pups. Though Tracy has spent her career in Corporate America, writing is her lifelong passion! Her other passion is removing the shame and stigma around mental health issues. Her family’s deeply personal journey with depression can be found on CBSThisMorning.com.

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