I was sitting in choir at church this past Sunday and one of the littles out in the seats started itching around a bit, chatting loudly, stirring things up – normal 5 year old stuff. I saw her Mom, another choir member, getting agitated and worried and JUST as she got up to go take care of it, two older girls (say 11 and 12) buzzed in, took the little one and her pal in hand and took them out of service to engage them elsewhere. They signaled Mom: “We’ve got it,” and it made my heart full in so many ways. It is always good to see a Mom of a little one get a break, but it also made my heart full watching those girls take charge of the situation, and be trusted by the adults.
Mom could have insisted on taking care of it, and likely missed out on her chance to sing with us. She could have insisted on being the one to attend to whatever the need was, but she didn’t. She chose to allow the help, and those girls did a great job. And the pride showed on their faces later.
As I think about myself and my husband, I acknowledge that we don’t ask for help as often as we perhaps could. It seems easier sometimes to just push through than to figure out precisely what you need and then ask the right person, etc, etc, etc. But really, asking for help doesn’t just do good for the person receiving the help. It does good for the helper and most assuredly for the relationship between the two.
If you don’t believe me, think about a toddler. They are SO eager to help. Sometimes they are so eager to help that they make a right mess of things (ALL of the clothes in the basket: dirty and clean frolicking together), diaper cream ALL over instead of on the rash, cookie dough everywhere instead of just on the pan. They so want to help.
We imagine that it changes as kids grow older, but I still find that when we pose something to my kids (twin 11 year olds) as a problem that we need help with rather than say as a failure on their part to do their share (which would likely be both fair and accurate), the willingness goes up dramatically. What is it about being asked to help that does this?
I think there are messages inherent for plea for help:
- I trust you to help me,
- you are capable (grown enough) to help me,
- I also need help sometimes (a great equalizer),
- I feel safe showing you where I’m not perfect,
- everybody needs help sometimes,
- you are good at things, and
- you are a contributor to this world we share.
Too often I see parents, Moms especially – sorry, doing everything because it’s easier to just do it or they want their kids to have free time in a world that is dominated by schedules or they know that a child’s help might mean a different outcome than what they are going for. But what messages are we sending when we never ask for help?
- I don’t trust you to do this right,
- you are incapable of helping me,
- I don’t need anybody’s help because I’m grown up,
- I can’t admit when I need help
- grownups shouldn’t need help,
- you aren’t really good at things I need done, and
- you can’t contribute here.
I’m sure there are other reasons we don’t ask for help. Stories we’ve written for ourselves about what parenting is about, what help means, what vulnerability costs, what it means to be an adult. And wrestling with those stories can take time.
So for some of you, maybe it’s easier to start by understanding that asking for help is helping your child, your partner, your friend or your sibling write a better story about themselves and about what it means to need help. How much easier would it all be if we could just learn to ask and to offer help and feel good about it? How good would it feel to nurture and learn to trust interdependence?