December 7, 2015

If I Can’t “Fix” My Family, I Will Try to Understand Them.


No one else in my family had ever offered to host a holiday dinner. If there were no holiday dinner I would have had to face the fact there was no family. Fixers can’t let that happen, we are the glue that holds families together.

I took on the role of The Fixer as a child. Unfortunately, even as an adult I wasn’t aware I was doing it, I just thought I was a miserable failure for never getting it right and would spend many sleepless nights trying desperately to pinpoint my mistakes—exactly where I had gone wrong—yet again.

It is sad for those of us who grew up in abusive, chaotic homes; it’s from these trenches The Fixers are born. We’re sure we are to blame for the dysfunction in our family and therefore grow up believing it’s our job, our mission to fix the broken souls. If we don’t, who will?

Year after year, the scene played like a movie in my head. We’d sit at the table, hold hands and say grace like “normal” people did in stories told and lullabies sung. We’d share witty banter, exchange affectionate glances and end the evening with a delightful toast to family, love and finally, some heart felt and well deserved words for me, The Fixer—the one who put our Humpty Dumpty family back together again.

The reality?

My family was comprised of alcoholics, a heroin addict, a narcissistic mother and several disengaged and resentful people. They would stagger in throughout the day in various states of inebriation with no regard given to the scheduled 4:00 pm dinner time. Most showed up dressed inappropriately, some in jeans and flannels still ripe with stench from the prior night’s escapades while others wore only disdain and palpable annoyance for having to show up at all.

I self-medicated my way through the entire production with alcohol and Valium.

The dinner wines I had carefully selected to accompany the three courses to be served were guzzled down before the first appetizer hit the serving platter. Conversation would quickly escalate into rapid fire insults, rehashing of past grievances, vile accusations and inevitably, some physical altercations.

My young children would eat quickly, flee the table and hole up in the den to watch movies and play games until they were sure everyone had gone. Only then would they seek me out for pumpkin pie, their reward for good behavior. Ironically, they were the only well-behaved people there.

By night’s end, I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. My spirit was crushed for, yet again, The Fixer had failed to produce the perfect holiday gathering.

I don’t know exactly when I experienced my epiphany; I only know it was gut wrenching and life-changing when I finally got it:

I could not fix anything or anyone.

These are the lessons I learned and it’s my sincere hope that if you recognize yourself as a Fixer, you understand it isn’t your job to fix anyone.

Acceptance. Accept that you are human and have limitations just as your family is, each with their own strengths and limitations. If they thrive on chaos and drama, drink to excess or abuse drugs, show your love by not inviting them. Setting boundaries is the ultimate gift we can give ourselves and them.

Love. Surround yourself and children with those that you love and who love you. Look around and allow your eyes to see only the things you cannot take with you when you go. Accept the beauty in what remains—for all that remains is love.

Forgiveness. This is the toughest task for The Fixers. You must forgive yourself for taking on an impossible role. You cannot fix, nor can you control, alcoholics, drug addicts or abusers…but you can forgive. Forgiving does not excuse their behavior or win them a seat at your table. They must earn that seat and let them know that should that day come, their place at your table will be waiting.

Mindfulness. If I could go back and give my younger self advice, this would be the most important piece:

Number one priority: your children. 

They are watching you, how you treat others, how you allow others to treat you and soaking it up like a sponge. Be mindful of their feelings, their interpretations, their environment—they are the most worthy of your time and attention, not the decorations, silver, tablecloths or wine selection.

Set your table with love, laughter and gratitude. Fill your glasses with memories and stories of happy times and memories of those no longer here. Fill your plates with gratitude for those surrounding you and the men and women risking their lives each day so you can all gather in peace.

At the end of the day, do you want a standing ovation for a staged production you medicated your way through or hugs from your children saying, “I’ll never forget this Thanksgiving, Mommy. It was the best day ever!”

Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Eva Cassidy:


Relephant Favorite: 

How to Hold Space Instead of Fixing People.


Author: Mary McLaurine

Apprentice Editor: Adam Wilkinson / Editor: Travis May

Image: Flickr/Hartwig HKD

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