I’m pretty sure that everybody is faced with at least one problem they don’t like but they have to deal with. For example, many Americans, after a long four day weekend for the Fourth of July, are thinking, “Oh my (you may add explicative words as needed), I have to go back to work. Now I have to get out of the shorts and sandals and back into the work clothes.”
On a more serious level, we have other very real problems to deal with. An example would be dealing with a child who is having problems in life. The definition of a problem is relative. The problem may range from your child dealing with a nasty falling-out with a friend to failing out of school and subsequently taking all of the feelings of embarrassment, helplessness and anger out on the rest of the world, especially the parents.
Either way, this is a stressful situation. Your child’s happiness means more to you than anything in the world. Any kind of problem would naturally intrude on any other thought you would have. It is in these moments that the “I need to fix this (INTFT)” reflex of parenting kicks in. This is not a reflex that is identified or researched in any literature but I think that anybody who cares about anything would understand this reflex.
The problem is that the INTFT reflex doesn’t always work. First of all, I do not believe that the term “fix” should be applied to most situations regarding human beings. A situation where it would work would be a person’s bone sticking out of her skin after a nasty skateboarding fall. Yes, that should be fixed. In most cases of behavior or thought, however, the term “fix” does not work. It, of all things, implies a label of “broken” (and we are all worried about labeling kids anyway).
The term I like to use is “change”. When a child is struggling, it is time to work on change. That can be through working to directly change the situation or, if that is not possible, change how the situation is handled.
The INTFT reaction to a child’s problem is to try to rescue or coddle the child. It makes sense. The brain, although still a vast mystery, has been studied in-depth. Scanning is now done to show what the brain is doing during actual real-time tasks. This allows us to understand which areas of the brain increase activity at certain times. An interesting finding is that the pleasure/reward center of the brain tends to activate when a person does something nice to help another person. In other words, our brains tend to reward us for being compassionate and helping others. There is a bit of selfishness, then, in doing nice things for each other.
This is a good thing. It makes us wired to take care of each other. However, like most things in life, too much is not good. The ability to garner reward for care-giving can be “maxed out”. When a person is too heavily involved in care-giving, a phenomenon called “compassion fatigue” occurs. This results in emotional exhaustion, a sense of being worn out. In addition it can cause a person to feel life in general is less enjoyable; hope and optimism can be negatively affected; a person will basically feel depressed.
Two women suffering from compassion fatigue decided to do something about it. They are sisters, one with a child diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, the other with a child with bipolar mood disorder. They felt compassion fatigue; isolated and alone, and in response became proactive. They started bragging about their children, celebrating the strengths present and not the “deficiencies”. They reached out to other parents raising children with challenges. They established what they call “The Movement of Imperfection”. They have a website at shutupabout.com which is a terrific resource for any parent and describes the Movement of Imperfection. At one of their meetings a mother related the story of being proud when her autistic child told his first lie. She realized this was an important developmental milestone. She accepted the situation, accepted her child for the person that he is.
In the greater picture, there are two important lessons to learn from this. First, it is ok to accept your difficulties and embrace your feelings about them. This allows you to deal with them in healthy ways, such as taking time for yourself and dealing with your own needs. Second, accept your child. Do not fight against what is happening but acknowledge it and say, “I am going to work on changing the way this is going.” That may mean bringing in help. Actually, you should reach out to professionals and other parents or care-givers. That will help to restore your reserves for compassion and care-giving.
Just as I cannot turn back the clock and start the four day weekend over, I cannot change the accident of birth or circumstances related to the problems that I am faced with. What I can do is look at what can be changed and grasp on to that. Perhaps that can lead to independence from the tyranny of shame, regret, anger, and frustration life problems can cause. This must feel like the independence we in America celebrate every Fourth of July.
References: Katz, Mark, Phd. “Celebrating Human Differences”, Attention, December 2012.