There’s one thing that many of us do that sabotages our relationships.

Relationships with our children. With our parents.

Siblings, friends, coworkers—really just everybody.

It’s something that I happen to really, REALLY love doing. It leaves me feeling competent and helpful.

Some people even appreciate when I do it. (That’s what I tell myself, anyway.)

As a parent, its draw is particularly irresistible. The siren song of…..


The Many Faces of Fixing

Sometimes I call fixing “being helpful,” “offering a solution,” or, “giving my perspective.”

Other times I call it “advice,” or “an opinion,” or “problem-solving.”

But really I’m just trying to fix things—usually because it will make ME more comfortable to do so.

No one likes being around someone who is upset, or in pain, or angry—that’s because, as Brené Brown says, we’re wired for connection.

When someone else is out of sorts—I feel it! (Do you?)

That’s the blessing and the curse of being connected to one another. It’s the price we pay for intimacy and empathy—we have impact on each other.

I want to be tuned into other people’s feelings…but what about when they are cranky, or feel like crap?


Here’s What’s Needed: Better Boundaries

When my boundaries are sucky, I forget to reset and do what I know will be most helpful.

I don’t shut my mouth, lean back, and just be.

I forget that holding space is sacred, and actually really helpful, all on its own.

I meddle.

Even when I know that the number one, most empowering, truly useful thing I can do is to give people (small or grown-up) my trust that they will get through their feelings on their own.

Yes, sometimes that person (ahem, 9-year-old) is NOISY whilst going through their emotions. I STILL DON’T HAVE TO “DO” ANYTHING. What if I just let it be? What if I kept quiet or only murmured things like, “That must be hard,” or “I hear you.”


Give It a Try!

Today we went to the farmer’s market. We didn’t have a big window of time. We ran into friends and he played on the playground for a while while I got what I wanted.

As I walked up and told him it was time to go, he held up his one remaining honey stick.

“But I want to get some more honey sticks,” he said.

“We don’t have time.”

His shoulders dropped as if they had weights on them. I got tense and stern and told him again we needed to leave.

He hemmed. I hawed.

I ushered him toward the car. He moped and I felt the heat of irritation rise in my chest.

Then I remembered: I don’t have to fix the problem.

He felt disappointed. We didn’t have time to go back to get more honey sticks (I was right about that–we pulled up to his 12-noon recital at 11:59).

ALL I HAD TO DO WAS HAVE A GOOD ENOUGH BOUNDARY TO RIDE HOME WITH A CRANKY 9-YEAR-OLD. (This was the reality I was trying to argue with.)

Once I knew that was my job, I could do it. And (of course), once I was calm and relaxed about what was required of me, my son settled down from his upset and moved on–not meddling for the win!

Even Small Course-Corrections Help

When I reflect on my behavior and reactions, I find there’s always room for growth. If I pull myself out of the hole of, “boy-I-really-blew-that,” and “what-a-slow-freaking-learner-I-am,” then I can more easily (and gracefully) move forward.

Self-recrimination is a trap.

Try not to hang out there. If you find you’ve fallen in, just shut that business down as soon as you notice it. A gentle, “Oh whoops, look at that—beating myself up again—we’ve learned that’s not useful. Move it along, move it along” should do.

Small shifts. Made often.

That will right your ship. It will head you where you want to be.


Sarah MacLaughlin is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children and has been featured in The Huffington PostShe brings over 25 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah is also mom to an nine-year-old who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice. She works with families one on one, in groups, and through online offerings.