As a parent, one of my most primal instincts is to “make things better” for my children. Whether it’s kissing a booboo or helping mend a broken heart, my immediate response is usually to try and “fix” whatever problem my child is confronting. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not the dreaded “helicopter parent,” hovering over my children to monitor and micromanage every aspect of their lives. But when one of my kids comes to me with an issue, my “make it all better” gear can sometimes go into overdrive. I reflexively want to suggest solutions, offer advice, brainstorm some effective strategies.
However, as my children have gotten older (and I have gotten a little wiser), I’ve come to realize that many problems aren’t and shouldn’t be “fixable.”They’re just part and parcel of the vicissitudes of growing up. Some experiences, no matter how troubling, are simply inherent in the human experience and need to be weathered. Often times kids don’t need a quick fix, they just need a sounding board or a sympathetic ear, someone to listen and some place safe to vent their hurt, frustration, anger, confusion, etc. and feel a sense of validation. Often a gentle hug and “Oh, that sounds like a tough situation” can be the best response. It not only imparts sympathy, it suggests that this is a challenge they can handle. By always leaping to the rescue, we deny our kids the opportunity to fully experience their feelings and address their own problems. It is through looking for their own solutions that children learn important life skills, developing competence, independence and resilience. And ultimately, that’s the goal, right?
Pittsburgh-area physician Dr. Deborah Gilboa offers some excellent advice on being an engaged, but not an “enmeshed” parent.