Many of us hail from a long line of ‘fixers’ beginning with our mothers and grandmothers. We’ve watched them ease the transitions, soothe feelings, reduce friction and absolve us in times of turmoil.
When we’re pregnant we’re told if we eat, move and avoid harm ‘just right’ our babies will be healthier. Of course, we devour this guidance. By the time they’ve reached the toddler years we’ve learned to childproof everything. We start off with good intentions to care for our families but then all the mixed messages about what we ‘should’ do as mothers and partners consumes us. Over time, the lines between care and control get blurrier.
Why? We’re judged harshly for the choices we make and we’re desperate to control our time. So, we swoop in to solve problems before they start. We become the family fixers. Tired, angry, fixers.
Escape from Criticism
Of course, long before the pandemic we had to wrestle with society’s fairy tales about Motherhood. Although we spend more time on work and childcare than prior generations, we’re still held to outdated expectations. We’re judged for choices we make in our careers and the unpaid work at home. So, we spin ourselves in circles trying to keep our kids obedient, homes in order and partnerships romantic. And when we fail to achieve the impossible, we judge ourselves in the form of guilt. As Reshma Saujani states, in Brave Not Perfect, “We’ve done a great job of internalizing that anything less than a perfect mom equals a bad mom.”
The Erosion of Boundaries in Lockdown
We don’t usually fix other people’s problems unless we’re paid to. It’s a dilemma we face at home. With defined roles at work, we can usually set boundaries to escape becoming the solver-of-all-things. Although we’re stretched by professional demands, it’s often where we find our voice and tap back into the power we lose at home. Sheltered-in-place that perspective we gained, when we’re not expected to find all the lost things, becomes elusive.
Although the pull to resolve everyone’s needs will feel inevitable, like gravity, resist. Sliding back into all of that fixing isn’t good for anybody.
Consequences Still Take Our Time
Let’s face it, we were swamped before COVID19 and when we preempt outcomes for our families, it’s one of the few tools we have left to control our time. If we own the cleaning then we’ll pick up those half full glasses on the table’s edge before they fall. We feel responsible for the housework, a time sink with no end, because in most US families we still are. If we’re coupled, this is a source of conflict and the effort to get equal partnership in lockdown, although critical, feels like another project on the long to-do list.
We’re tempted to ‘fix’ things for our kids. It’s difficult to discern advocacy from over parenting. As Jessica Lahey, Educator and Author, states in her book, The Gift of Failure, “Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of the way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of this world.” We understand this. However, with school at home the distinction about what we’re responsible for versus our kids, is even less clear.
We Can Rediscover Ourselves
We don’t need to keep the unreasonable burden of fixing during this pandemic. Imagine this time of pause as the start of your personal renaissance. Where you can relax the reigns and take your rightful place alongside the family. Where you can freely receive help, not just give it.
Our spouses and in age-appropriate ways our children, can take part in running our homes. Let’s allow everyone around us the grace of accountability. It’s time to loosen the strings or put them down altogether.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.