There is something about preparing to go on vacation that stretches a person’s to-do list to ridiculous proportions. There are suddenly loose ends at work, things to be bought, laundry to be washed. The cat must be dropped off and the oil must be changed.
This was me two weeks ago as I prepared for my trip. Following a marathon evening of a late karate class for the boy, vacation prepping and not very much sleep, I dragged into my last day of work, and peeking at Facebook before starting my day, typed these words into my status: “I am so exhausted I could cry.”
So pitiful and sleep deprived was I that I completely forgot that my mother-in-law had only days before friended me on Facebook. Within minutes, my phone rang. It was her.
“I’m just reading your Facebook status that says ‘I’m so exhausted I could cry.’ What can I do to help?”
“Oh! I’m OK…” and here came the tears – I get teary when I’m sleep deprived, “It’s just that Nolan moved up to the later karate class, and I have to adjust-”
“Why don’t you quit that karate class? Don’t adjust your schedule for that!” she suggested.
“Huh? Oh, no…that means so much to him. I just-”
“Well just quit it for the summer.”
“Oh, no, then he’ll be behind all his other friends. I just need to-”
“Well what time is it?” she asked.
“The class? Well last night’s class was at 6:45, and…”
“That is so late! They are going to starve!”
Meaning my children. By now my tears had dried up and I was angry.
“I will be feeding them dinner before the class. You know, I’m really fine.”
“Well,” she said, “when you put something like that out there for all the world to see…”
“I’m good! Don’t worry about me! Everything’s fine!”
And with that, we ended that conversation, I deleted my status update, and restricted her access to my whiney posts. Over-sharing aborted and lesson learned.
Try not to judge my mother-in-law though. She’s quite wonderful. It’s just that she’s a fixer. I should know, because I’m a fixer too.
Let me elaborate.
For one thing, I’ve always been an information sponge. I devour articles, lists, helpful hints, tips, and shortcuts. And then I pass them along to my friends and relatives. It’s just how I am.
But the main thing is that if you present me with a problem, my first instinct is to solve it. It doesn’t matter if you are just trying to vent, I’m going to wrestle the thing to the ground and pummel it until a solution emerges.
It took a good part of my adult life and the deciphering of many social cues to reach the conclusion that people are not always looking for my brilliant advice and solutions. On the other hand, sometimes they do appreciate a small dose of my brilliant advice and solutions. The trick, therefore, is striking the delicate balance between helpful and supportive.
My mother-in-law is 75 years old. She’s wonderful, but it’s too late for her to change. But if you are a fixer, it many not be too late for you. Here are some of the cold, hard lessons I have learned over the course of my self-examination:
1. Not every conversation is about you. This can be difficult because you certainly are a participant in the conversation, but sometimes your primary job is to listen.
2. Be a good listener. Engage in active listening. Asking questions is a good way to achieve this. That bit of input that you are going to offer as soon as your partner’s lips stop moving? Try to put that on the back burner. If you are focusing on what you are going to say next, you are not fully receiving what your partner is expressing.
3. Offer suggestions, but don’t let that dominate the exchange. Preface these suggestions with “Have you tried…” or “Would you consider…” Then, watch for cues. If they appear exasperated with this input, then perhaps they just wish to vent. Sometimes a person just needs to vent before their own solution emerges.
And remember, just because you have an opinion does not mean you always have to express it. This may be my biggest challenge. I have lots and lots of great opinions. Exercising restraint in expressing them is the greatest challenge of all.