I am, by nature, a fixer. Whether it’s editing a document or clearing icy walkways so they’re safe for others, I love a job that allows me to take something broken or flawed and restore it. It’s why I gain satisfaction from removing a stubborn stain or creating a better system for managing household paperwork. Armed with the best laundry soak or a label maker, I can get the job done!
When my sons were younger, fixing was easier. I tended to their wounds when they fell off their bikes. If they argued with a friend, or if their hands were cold after playing in the snow, my sons knew I could help them. In the early stages of parenting, I often righted wrongs. I liked being a parent who fixed things. It felt good being needed by my sons.
Of course, the solutions back then were often so easy: Keep an ample amount of bandaids in the medicine cabinet; learn about developmentally-appropriate conflict resolution; and, perfect my hot cocoa recipe. Mom to the rescue!
Now, as the mom of two teenage sons, I’m befuddled because I can no longer play the role of fixer.
As a junior and a senior in high school, my sons are navigating more complicated relationship choices. They have to decide whether to take more AP classes or try for some credits at the local community college. They find the stack of college mail daunting. And, once again, they’re in the middle of another losing season of basketball.
I can no longer swoop in and fix it all — though, that hasn’t stopped me from trying.
I badger, I pester, and I offer obscene amounts of unsolicited advice. On more than one occasion, my husband has to remind me to let it go. To give them space. To trust them to make their own decisions.
I miss my box of bandaids and comforting mantras that helped them get back to sleep at night. Like my solution for soaking grass stains, I want the magic formula to help them make the best decisions for their future with the least amount of heartache and the fewest setbacks.
What do I do instead? I conjure up all my hard-earned life lessons and condense them into a short motivational speech titled “Learn From My Mistakes.” But they don’t listen, and they certainly aren’t taking notes like I had hoped.
At the basketball games, I am on the literal sidelines, watching it all unfold. I want to march down onto the court and talk to the opposing coaches about their bad manners, but I’m silent. And in every other aspect, I’m on the metaphorical sidelines, a silent spectator.
My sons are young men on the verge of full adulthood. Soon, they will enter into employment contracts and begin their professional careers. They’ll sign leases for apartments. Take out loans to buy houses. They may get engaged. They might move across the country to avoid our Minnesota snow.
After some time and a lot more independence, they’ll be able to write their own “Learn From My Mistakes” speeches. They’ll make some terrible decisions, learn valuable lessons, celebrate their victories, and move forward with their lives.
Honestly, I’m not okay with feeling like my help is no longer needed. I know, in theory, I should take satisfaction from a parenting job well done and learn to appreciate all the ways I was able to help my sons grow into adulthood. I want to believe that someday, I will be okay with letting go. Right now, though, I feel terrible about no longer being needed, and that creates another problem I don’t know how to solve.
So I confide in my husband as we begin to navigate what an emptier nest might look like, and I connect with my amazing network of mom friends working through these same changes. And of course I continue to look for smaller problems — the slippery sidewalks and annoying grass stains — that I can fix. Because, like I said, I’m a fixer. If I can’t be fixing my sons’ problems, surely there are other challenges ready for me to tackle, instead.