One of my favorite things to do with my younger children is to build things with them with their construction toys – Mobilo being my construction toy of choice. Im getting pretty good at it. Not the building part – that parts easy – its the not taking over part thats hard.
More often than not, my kids encounter some kind construction problem, and look to me to fix it. So I do, or at least, I would. Its taken me some time to realize that my success in fixing their projects rarely ended with them being happy about it. Usually I was met with their disappointment in their failure to do it themselves.
I started having flash backs to my own childhood projects with my dad and was a little shocked to realise a lesson Id already learnt and forgotten as a boy, was now being presented to me again as a man.? So many of those father son projects, became just father projects. I could not do half the stuff properly or as quickly as him. Any problem I encountered, he just solved it for me.
How could I have forgotten this? I had become a clich?, the son who grows up to be just like his father. A man all too eager to jump in to solve problems of others rather than thinking about the impact of doing so.
Men generally take pride in their independent problem solving ability and tend to look within for solutions to a problem. He risks being seen as weak or incompetent, inadequate or ?less of a man. He may see himself as not measuring up to other men that he deems more capable. Men dont usually want to admit to themselves they need help .
We are MEN! Watch us FIX STUFF! (Cue beating of chest noise)
Men often see it as their role to try and solve their significant others problems – to fix things rather than listen. It was not until I was in my mid thirties that my partner sat me down and explained it all to me.. “Richard, sometimes when I tell you about my troubles, I just want you to listen. I dont want you to solve my problems – I just need a sounding board, a sympathetic ear. I dont need you to feel that once told of these problems you now have a responsibility to fix them. You dont . And you know what? You can apply this to your kids as well.”
I found this news both startling and confronting. What could she possibly mean I dont have to solve her problems? And of course I had to completely sort out my kids problems for them. My first thought was how this revelation was going to make my life so much harder. Now Id have to find a way to try and solve all their problems when without them knowing I was doing it.(lol)
Of course, women are also faced with the need to problem solve and experience the same types of issues as men. But here lies the conundrum. Women are more likely to seek help or advice to support their problem solving and dont see this as a poor reflection of themselves. When a woman shares her problems with a female friend, the friend may offer advice or she may just listen. Her first instinct is not to jump in and start fixing. Her first instinct may be to find a way to enable the friend to solve their own problem. Men more often than not will charge in offering our solutions.
Thus on those rare occasions when a man shares with a male friend details about a tough spot there is a good chance the male friend will be… well…. not much help. Our male need to fix problems kicks in, instead of providing a supportive, sympathetic ear we jump in with solutions. The proffered solutions may well be totally out of step with how our friend deals with things and be not much use to them. In trying to solve others problems we may well undermine their need to solve their OWN problems. When I thought about this for a while…. I came to the conclusion that women seem to instinctively understand this.
The need to problem solve major life decisions independently from other people, may make things tough for men. Australian men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women and divorced men are three times more likely to commit suicide than other men . My theory on this is there can be no greater indicator to a man of their total failure as a problem solver than the breakdown of a relationship. Its massively hard to deal with the loss of a partner, and reduced access to your kids but, in my experience its the failure to prevent it happening that leaves the greatest impact. The failure to solve this major life problem undermines a mans belief in himself and that life is worth continuing. As hard as it is to cope with the loss of a partner and/or children, statistics show that men who lose their partner to illness have in fact one of the lowest rates of suicide of all. My theory on this is men at least accept that this is one problem (terminal illness) that they could not possibly have been expected to solve.(1)
So…. now Ive come to these conclusions, how does this affect me in my relationship and as a parent? Well, in fact quite a lot. As a father, I used to find myself tearing my hair out in frustration over my children. For example, my middle daughter has big feelings. Nothing is small. Big love, big joy, but also big frustration, big tears – its impossible for her to live in the middle. Few other kids understand her big feelings except other kids with big feelings and you can imagine what a powder keg those friendships are. As her dad I wanted to fix things. To sort it all out for her. I have given all sorts of advice and instruction. Nothing worked and in hindsight since learning of my manly need to solve everything, I can appreciate my methods were never going to.
Now however, armed with this knowledge my life as a parent has become so much easier! Instead of trying to give instructions on how she can deal with her big feelings, I talk with her about them, and get her to offer ways she could address them. OK, I admit to a bit of man behaviour slipping in, and I sometimes plant seeds of ideas that she then grows into her own. But I dont rush in all guns blazing with masses of instructions and life lessons for her. As a result she and I, are so much happier. My daughter is happier because she, is learning ways to bring herself down from an extreme feeling and take in what is going on around her. And I feel more connected with her and much calmer in my approach to challenging situations.. The weight of not having to find the ultimate solution to everything is GREAT. I am so much happier to see this new tactic bringing results.
I am sure there will be times when I charge in with my problem solving guns blazing, and at times that will be the best thing to do, and it will work. At least now I know I have a choice.
(1) Statistics re: Australian male suicide taken from http://fathersforlife.org/health/aussuic.htm