The only person you can change is yourself.
I don’t know who first said the words to me, probably my parents, and they probably said them many times before the concept finally sunk into my developing brain, but I know I had internalized it by my late teens. If I wanted my life to change, or a relationship to change, or something to be fixed, the course of action which was most likely to succeed was for me to change. It is good advice and side-steps worlds of frustration. 20 years later I’ve finally accepted that the rule might have a corollary. Sometimes me changing is not the right answer to a particular problem.
All of my children are facing personal challenges right now. The point of childhood is to face challenges and learn from them, so this is not unusual. Gleek is struggling to work through some interpersonal difficulties in her church class. Link has a two page paper he does not want to write and chores he does not like doing. Patch has several friends moving away. Kiki feels overwhelmed by her homework load. There are more–life rarely parcels out challenges one per person–but these are the ones at the forefront today. My default solution is to change me. I could talk to Gleek’s teacher and make requests which would ease her experience. I could organize Kiki’s tasks for her and become the dictator of her schedule. I could sit Link down and babysit him through every word. I could arrange for Patch’s days to be filled with activities so that he won’t have time to feel sad. Four months ago this type of thing is exactly what I regularly did for my kids. I twisted my energies and time into the necessary needs. Sometimes parents must contort themselves for the benefit of their kids, but I did it so much that I became tied in knots.
Reading Naomi Remen’s book My Grandfather’s Blessings helped me untangle some of those knots. Particularly this quotation:
Seeing yourself as a fixer may cause you to see brokenness everywhere, to sit in judgment on life itself. When we fix others, we may not see their hidden wholeness or trust the integrity of the life in them. Fixers trust their own expertise. When we serve, we see the unborn wholeness in others; we collaborate with it and strengthen it…Over the long run, fixing and helping are draining but service is renewing. When you serve, your work itself will sustain you, renew you, and bless you, often over many years.
Sometimes the troubles of my children are not mine to fix. Sometimes my job is to hug them and stand nearby while they struggle to grow into their own answers. If I always change me to solve our family’s problems, then I steal opportunities for growth and change from my children. I know how to organize a schedule. Kiki does not. She can not learn how if I always step in to do it for her.
There are some things that I must fix or they will remain broken. There are other things that I should not fix because they belong to someone else. I wish the difference was marked more clearly.