The Problem (Solver) 9-15-16


I’ve been blessed (or cursed) with an obsessive type mind.  I am obsessed with problem solving.  As a child I loved puzzles, word games, riddles, mysteries.  I would read a Hardy Boys book (ok, big rainbow flag!) a day, I couldn’t soak it up fast enough.  I went through a phase where I did logic puzzles for hours and days on end.

I love learning about nutrition and the fact that what foods we eat can solve most of our health problems.  I love learning about birth and breastfeeding and knowing that if one can just figure out how to do it, it will work every time.  One of my core beliefs is that everything has a cause.  Therefore, if one can find the root of the problem, the problem can be solved.

It comes in handy when I work on self-improvement, which is constant.  We can all give a nod to someone who’s always determined to improve, and conquer that which they aren’t great at.  I think that is a trait that is highly admired in our culture.  (This blog I am not great at not ending sentences with a preposition but let’s not change everything at once!  Real change is slow!)

The downside is that I obsessively focus on improvement of weaknesses, obsess on what I am not, rather than what I am.  I tend to be mostly negative about some things in life, honestly believing that if I focus only on the positives, I envision myself to be a 1950’s housewife, with her life falling down around her as she hums in the kitchen, intentionally ignorant of all problems, as she pours herself another brandy.

When I went to college, every high school teacher told me to focus on writing, and that science was not my forte.  I immediately enrolled in a Biology major.  I didn’t want to better what I was good at, I wanted to conquer my weakness.  I believed (still do if I’m being honest) that focusing on weaknesses only make us better people, and to focus on strengths is living in a pretend world full of rainbows and butterflies.

When I wake up each morning, I tend to review a list in my head of all the problems I need to fix that day.  Lately I wonder if I had a career job that focused on problem-solving, I could turn off my tireless brain that seems to be hardwired to seek out problems and fix them.  Perhaps if I had a career that I could problem solve it would satisfy that glitch (?) in my brain.  Of course, to be effective they have to be solvable problems.  Like, say, crossword puzzles or rearranging furniture.  But I’m a stay at home mom.  My career is my home, wife, children.  It’s all I do, 24/7.  So, naturally to a certain extent, it makes sense that I am focused on improvement in these areas.  Which means continuously analyzing people, relationships, and growth.  However, it’s an obsession.  But who can blame me?

I was reading recently that less than 150 years ago, parents never linked their parenting skills (or lack of) on the outcome of their children.  You just went about your life and how your kids turned out was how they turned out.  A crapshoot, a gamble.  Now, we are all obsessed with how to parent.  We also look back on our childhoods and think, “Well, if this or this had just happened to me I would have been happier and turned out better.”  So we try to fix that for our children.  We prevent experiences, we try to give experiences.  If you scroll through your FB feed, every other post is an article in parenting.  (Or just me, perhaps I need to unfollow some things).  Make sure you are doing this.  Don’t do this.  It’s enough to make any parent completely overwhelmed and feel cripplingly Pictureincompetent.  If you start feeling accomplished about teaching or providing for a child, all you have to do is click on the next article to feel completely worthless.  Finally get your kids to do their own laundry?  But have you taught them about tricky strangers?  Did you remember to take a picture of them in the outfit they are wearing today in case they get abducted?  Did you allow them to sleep at a friend’s?  Did you hand them responsibilities, not too much but just enough?  Did you pay so much attention to the toddler you were potty training that day that you forgot to ask, in the correct way, how your 9 year old’s day went?  (Caution, do not ask them “How was your day?”  That’s being a bad parent.  Do not tell them you are proud of them!  They need to be proud of themselves.)  Were you too busy today cooking a healthy meal and didn’t talk to your child in his own love language?  Doing this all well with one child seems daunting, let alone times 5, and then multiplying the complexity of a family of 7 people (or 9) all with relationships with each other.

Most days the list of problems to be solved is so great my first instinct is to start to cry, curl up into a ball and stay in bed.  But then I get all problem solve-y.  I can conquer all of this!  I arm myself with books to read, articles to peruse, friends’ brains to pick!  If I just can get to the bottom of said problem, life will get better!  Focus on only the positives?  I might as well hand my 13 yr old a crack pipe and get back into the kitchen because I’m just burying my head in the sand, and if I’m not proactive, that’s where we’re all going to end up anyway.  With all of my children in jail at a young age due to a mother who neglected and blissfully ignored their emotional needs.

I obsess about my children’s happiness.  I obsess about what I’m teaching them.  I obsess more about what I haven’t taught them yet, or didn’t even think about teaching them, or even worse, forgot I wanted to teach them.  I’m 13 years in, 5 kids, and if I had to make a list, things I’ve taught them column would be empty and things I haven’t taught them a mile long.  It’s taken me 13 years to get one of them to change his shirt every day (and to be honest, we are still hovering around 50%.  But, a big step since when he was 4 I was afraid he wouldn’t even be wearing clothes to school), or taking one of them 8 years to put their pants on frontwards…let alone how to invest in real estate or tithe to church 10% or inspire them to donate all their birthday money to the local animal shelter.  Of course, this is from a girl who used to make lists of what she was bad at, not what she was good at.  So I wipe my tears and resolve to problem solve.  Conquer each thing.  Maybe if I figure out my child’s love language he wouldn’t be constantly upset.  Maybe if I focused even more on clean, strict paleo we could eliminate behavior issues and my children won’t get diabetes when they are 30 or not get cavities because they tell me they brushed and haven’t and I was too busy cooking to check to see if their toothbrushes were wet.  It took me 13 years to figure out how to use Love and Logic effectively and yet it’s still a daily struggle to remember.  I take a hit to the little ego left when I do actually parent effectively (according to who I do not know.  Or is it whom?  Why did I not focus on writing like my high school teachers told me to!)  but my kids hate me even more.  I joke that I must be doing a great job when there’s always 2-3 people mad at me in the house, but I could easily feel ineffective, (should I let it bother me, but of course never would let that get to me!)

Right now our 2 and 4 year old are fighting and I can’t help but run through the list of how my parenting is affecting what they are learning right this minute.  One of them is a bit of an aggressor and thus the other is a bit of a victim not knowing how to handle this aggression without being aggressive back so he screams and cries.  Do you teach and correct the aggressor?  Do you teach the other how to handle aggression?  Do you ignore it because you are handing the problem back?  Or are you just paralyzed with indecision, knowing that any parenting style you try probably isn’t the right one and you should’ve done it differently?  Or am I such a selfish asshole parent that I continue blogging to fulfill my selfish ambition and leave them on their own?  Who knew these simple life experiences could make one think they may be batshit crazy?  So each time you try slightly different methods, but the best you do is not blow up and scream at them yourself, which you know is definitely not the right thing and yet the most likely, especially when you’ve made a conscious promise to yourself that morning to handle all screaming, torture, stress of other people by being a Zen-like rubber ball.  (It’ all going to bounce off of me because I am not going to be hurt or affected by anyone’s actions or feelings today.)

Of course at the end of the day, there are definitely benefits to problem solving and self-improvement.  But for me the line between that of obsession of zooming in on problems to be solved is not very clear from normal self-growth analysis and assistance to those around me.  What would my life look like if I could turn off all the voices in my head telling me what I and those around me are doing wrong?  What would it look like if I could effectively only see all the wonder around me?  Would I really be burying my head in the sand?  Or would I be even happier?  Would those around me be happier?  That’s certainly a school of thought, but my question is, to those around you will they presume you don’t care about them?  If you are reading this and waiting for my answer, you are wasting your time.  I don’t have it.  I don’t know where the line is in self-improvement and problem solving and accepting things for what they are and just being grateful and hoping your children turn out in spite of you.  I’m learning that I am not responsible for other people’s happiness, including my children’s.  That’s a hard lesson to learn.

A big tenet of Love and Logic is handing people’s problems back to them in loving ways.  I’ve been messing up on that every which way and only recently been starting to get the hang of it.  Personality-wise, I believe sometimes that I can make life easier for people, and will gladly give up most things if it makes other people happier.  This has gotten me in trouble lots of times, but sometimes I do admit that it also does work to a certain extent.  After all, if I’m happy, but those around me are miserable, can I keep being happy anyway?  It’s a catch 22.  I guess if you are doing it right and handing everyone’s problems back to them, eventually they may figure it out too.  But to someone like me, that’s giving up an awful lot of control, even if it’s fake control of somethings you aren’t actually in control of.  I’ve also messed up on this concept when I may not accept taking on someone’s problem, but don’t hand it back in a loving way.  It’s a hard thing to do.  We spit out these words to our kids so bitterly sometimes, so excited in a spiteful way to prove that we were right and they are messing up just like we said they would.  There’s so much pressure today that if our kids don’t turn out the way we hope they would, we have failed to teach them correctly or love them the right way or provide the right experiences for them.

Currently the 2 year old is screaming because he climbed up onto the counter and believes he can’t get down.  I’ve assured him that he can but he doesn’t believe me.  He’s been screaming for a while now, determined that I am the only way he can solve this problem.  I’m sure I’ve created this problem by being a terrible mother in the past and rescued him, and now am leaving him hanging in the wind.  I’ve handed his problem back to him but he ain’t taking the bait.  At what point does the 2 year old screaming infringe on your happiness and willingness to solve this problem for him?  Ah, it’s so fun, isn’t it? Be sure to CHERISH these moments, people!

Anyway, my point is that I don’t know how to handle myself sometimes and realize that The Problem Solver in my life is most likely The Problem.  (For those of you who haven’t seen the hilarious episode of 30 Rock when 2 of the dumber characters decide they are The Problem Solvers and get shirts printed, one shirt is supposed to say “The Problem” and the other is supposed to say “Solvers”, but they both end up with shirts saying “The Problem”.)  Now if you’d really like to hear some twisted thinking, do I resolve to be more positive in my thinking and change how I view things?  Or is that just one more way of problem solving and self-improvement and refusing to accept myself for all that I am, good and bad?  Or to blow our minds, let’s add in the spiritual lens.  Hand it over to God in prayer.  Do you pray about things and then drop it, trusting that you don’t have to worry about it anymore?  Or do you pray about it and realize that God is telling you to figure it out, here’s a book to read, call this friend?   Should these thoughts be in a blog or in a diary under my bed to be seen by no one?  DO I have way too much time to be thinking about life?  Have I been “self employed” too long?  All good questions.

Well, as I’ve spit this all out on paper I’ve reached my own conclusion.  I don’t think I’ll tell you but see how it all goes from here on out.  Perhaps I’m the only one in these predicaments but we all can pull from this what we need. Perhaps I’ll blog about the success someday.  I will definitely share my journey with Love and Logic principles soon.

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