The Problem Solver’s Dilemma: You Can’t Fix Everything


FullSizeRender fix it


Take a closer look at the photo accompanying this Blog post, please.

I took the photo myself (you probably guessed that) – it is of one page taken from a 36 page instruction manual that came with our recently purchased, back-yard, “inexpensive” outdoor gas bbq grill. Careful eyes will detect that this photo contains no words.  Yes, that’s right, the grill assembly instructions came in pictorial form only. Zero narrative guidance!

As my spatial skills are measured in negative numbers, I am lucky that my clever husband was able to assemble our new gas bbq grill. Now we have a grill that works (our prior one died of old age) and I have Mr. Fix-It to thank for it.

Not to brag but I have my own Ms. Fix-It prowess.

I am a persistent solver of problems, a dedicated pursuer of solutions in the most difficult of situations and I don’t let little things like immensely irritating frustration with an inept bureaucratic system get in my way. (if any of you reading this happen to work at a certain unnamed health insurance company, yes, I am looking at you.)

Being a problem solver is one of my best skills. Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I realize how many things there are in my life (likely in yours too) that are simply NOT fixable.

1. Health:

As my Dad frequently likes to say if I complain to him about my latest woe, “if it is a problem that can be solved by money, it is not a problem” – his way of telling me that the only thing that matters in life (especially for him at age 92) is good health. All the $$$$ in the world cannot purchase a fix for serious illness. The most wealthy people in the world do get sick, can’t get better and die like the rest of us. This is somehow comforting to me as an avid reader of the obituary page.

2. Adult Kids:

Being a parent is a forever thing – but parenting is not.

Witness the dizzying number of articles, blogs and essays offering advice on fixing kid problems – from toddler temper tantrums to helping high school kids apply to college.

After age 22 or so, the “parenting” advice book trail goes cold. As it should. All of us who spent as many years as I did as charter members of the Let-Mom-Fix-Your-Problem-For-You parenting club, know we need to back off and let our adult kids resolve their own problems.

And as tempting as it may be, we should not offer “helpful” suggestions from afar unless requested to do so. Even if you have to tape your own mouth shut with duct tape (an option that has been recommended to me on more than one occasion), they don’t want to hear our advice. Very hard to watch if (when) they flounder or make less than wise life choices. I’m still a work in progress on this one.

3. Husband/Spouse/Partner:

When I met my husband in the early fall of our first year of graduate school, he was the proud owner of a pair of burnt orange, wide-wale, bell-bottom pants that stopped well north of his ankles. Some friends of ours still believe that I got involved with him in order to revise his wardrobe. Which I did, bit by bit, with those dreadful pants the first to go.

But other than his fashion choices, I have not succeeded in fixing very much about my husband, although I have tried mightily.

He has yet to understand that tossing his dirty clothes on the floor somewhere near the laundry basket is not the same as putting his dirty clothes actually inside the laundry basket. Over the 37 years of our marriage I specialized in constant reminders regarding this and other less than desirable habits; some might call it nagging. Much bickering and battling over (in retrospect) some very stupid stuff.

Then around age 60, each of us had our own major health scares. Amazing how near death experiences puts that pesky stuff into perspective!  I then decided that he was o.k. as is, that I no longer need to fix anything about him. (NOTE: I am not suggesting that you go out and have major health scares in order to resolve long-standing marital problems.)


But these non-fixable things – health, adult kids, our husbands/spouses/partners are all very personal.

There are, of course, many global matters that are possibly fixable. And I fear that I am not sufficiently engaged in these larger concerns. Spending much of my day writing is a very personal pursuit. Though I do my part on a few issues (young adult mental health awareness and advocacy, for one),  I see many people who are more active with the bigger picture, while I am perhaps too focused on a smaller, more local world.

Somewhere lies the balance, between the smaller stuff that we learn over the years is not fixable – and the larger stuff that we can try to fix with the same energies we once used on the smaller stuff.  Worth pondering.














Filed under Adult Kids, Aging, Aging Parents, Baby Boomers, Family, Husbands, Marriage, Midlife, Parenting, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

4 responses to “The Problem Solver’s Dilemma: You Can’t Fix Everything

  1. I have had bloody tongues holding back words and wished I had taken a breath before I did spurt out my, I know it to be, sage wisdom!
    I am amazed at the BBQ instructions. I think the company did not want to have to put into several languages a manual. I too am not fluent in picture intuitiveness.


  2. JC

    Had this conversation with a slightly older friend. At 50, you feel emboldened to pontificate. By 60, you realize that most people aren’t interested/want to hear you words of “wisdom”/unsolicited advice to fix everything. By 70, you can’t remember why or what you wanted to say in the first place!

    It is hard to put your foot in your mouth if it is closed.

    I have a cousin who can’t understand why her adult/professional daughter who has her own child resents her trying to micromanage her life. Seriously. Get your own life ASAP.


  3. bethhavey

    Ah Nancy, it is so comforting to know that I’m not alone in wanting to fix things. I have similar issues with my husband and they are so small when one looks at the big picture. And my children–sometimes I wonder if I really raised them! Other times they mirror my strong life-feelings. But each of us is our own self and my mother I am sure shook her head over some of my choices. Thanks for venting and allowing me to vent. Beth


  4. I am called the fixer in my family as well. I just have this need but I have also learned those valuable lessons with my adult kids. I taught them to be strong and independent so I have to let them be. I’ve been pretty lucky at the respect some bumps and bruises. My husband and I were brought so much closer when I got sick. They way he took care of me it was amazing. Plus he’s a clean freak so I’m lucky there as well. This was wonderful, I really enjoyed it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s