In part one of this three part series on how to help the people you love, I talked about helping them in the way that they need help. Not the way we think to help them. Only the person who needs help can really tell us what they need.
In the last post, I mentioned “if you’re a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a niece, a grandmother, well, any one with estrogen surging through them, then you have experienced the urge to be helpful. You’ve wanted to be helpful to those you love, and sometimes even to a perfect stranger.” If you fall in one of those categories, then I know that my next suggestion is going to be hard for you.
Nurturers by nature are helpful. And being helpful means pitching in, getting our hands dirty, doing what’s necessary. Being helpful somehow implies that we need to be in the fray. But by its very definition, helpful means “giving or ready to give help.” And the last part of that definition is what I want to talk about.
“Ready to give help” is not the same as being involved. It’s just means we are ready to help if that person tells what they need from us.
When we see someone we love hurting, working hard, in a time crunch, frustrated, etc., it’s hard to not rush to their aid. But sometimes the best thing we can do is stay out of the way.
Real life example:
You are awakened from a deep sleep when you hear a noise in the house. Of course, you wake your husband up to check things out. But you insists on going with him to disarm the burglar. In essence what will happen?
- you distract him from what he really needs to do
- you become a secondary priority that requires part of his attention
- your opinions distract him from finding the solution (you know you’re going to be telling him how he ought to handle this issue)
- he is safer
I know it’s a silly illustration, but you didn’t really want me to go there about us girls trying to help our husbands in those real life scenarios. Did you?
Real life example:
Your daughter comes home from school heart broken. Romeo has broken her heart. First reaction of a Southerner: “snatch him bald” (deep South), “wring his neck” (middle South), “give him a piece of my mind” (just South). But staying out of the way of this relationship issue, instead of helping, while going against the grain of a nurturer, will be the best help a mother can give.
What happens to our loved one when we stay out of the way?
- they find a solution on their own
- they learn that some problems resolve themselves, if given enough time
- they grow in their trial
- they learn about themselves
- they develop life skills in the process
Being helpful means “being ready to help.” Being ready doesn’t entail action. Sometimes the best help we can give to the people we love is to stay out of their way, and let them know that we are available . . . if they need our action.
If you’re a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a niece, a grandmother, well, any one with estrogen surging through them, then you have experienced the urge to be helpful. You’ve wanted to be helpful to those you love, and sometimes even to a perfect stranger. (Note: today we are not talking about our little ones.)
It’s so, so easy to think up ways to help:
- take them soup
- send them flowers
- offer to babysit
- share a cup of coffee
- bake them a pie
- etc., etc.
What’s not so easy is to help the way that person actually needs help.
- soup won’t clean their house
- flowers don’t give much needed rest
- babysitting, well, that just might be helpful
- coffee doesn’t ease our pain
- pies just make us fat
In the above quick, self-selected avenues of helping, how may those not actually be helpful?
- soup may mean they have to complete the meal with foods they don’t already have on hand
- what if they are allergic to flowers, especially those lovely Stargazers
- babysitting may mean they have to take the time to drive the kids to your house in an already tight schedule
- they don’t have time to meet you for coffee
- pies mean returning dishes to you
Real Life example:
Life is crazy busy. Schedules are tight. In order to still have a sit-down dinner with the family, you decide to put supper in the oven and set the timer. When everyone gets home, voila! dinner will be ready. You buzz in the door excited to eat dinner and catch up on all that is happening with the kids at school. But when you open the oven door, the oven feels room temperature, not hot. Quickly, you check all the settings only to find that the oven is off. Husband coming into the kitchen says, “Hi, honey! you left the oven on this morning, so I turned it off about an hour ago.” What?!?!?!
To be sure, you needed help that day, but that was not the help you needed.
Your husband could have set the table, swept the floor, made coffee, anything. A number of things would have been helpful; turning the oven off was not one of them.
And that’s how it works for the people we love. They need our help, but they don’t need help that actually makes more work for them or doesn’t solve any of the problems they have.
Real life example:
You know that your daughter has been working hard to keep her grades up while taking on a part in the school play. You want to do something special for her. You make appointments for both of you to get a manicure. A surprise girls’ night out! Great idea! She’ll love it! When she gets home from school, you let her know how proud you are of her and all of her hard work. Yeah! Then bong! “That would be so much fun,” she let’s you know, BUT she has play practice. What she really needs is her blouse ironed since she needs to get back to practice right away.
To be sure, she needed help that day, but the manicure was not the help she needed.
How can we know what to do?
There’s no magic formula for truly being helpful. Just two simple mindsets and one action:
- Don’t assume that they need what you would need if you were in the their shoes.
- Be willing to do what they need.
- Ask the one you love, “What can I do to be the most help to you?”
(Continue with me to Part 2 and Part 3.)
I’d like to whine for just a bit. AND it will probably be wasted. But I’m going for it.
Truth is I’d like to whine about whining.
Please don’t misunderstand where I’m coming from. I’m a mom . . . of three . . . boys. Each boy was “all boy.” Ya’ know what I mean? And I’ve weathered all the stages.
I’ve done what many of you young moms are doing right now. I’ve changed diapers, lots of them. I’ve wiped runny noses, green snotty ones. I’ve been spit on. I’ve sat on the side of the tub waiting for the sound of success. I’ve even had stitches for cuts unintentionally delivered to me by one of the kids. (Hey, it’s a rough world out there in “mommydom.”) I’ve braced against the day of the stubborn will. I’ve happily washed loads of laundry in my own home, and I’ve unhappily washed loads of laundry at the laundry mat. I’ve read between the lines when my beloved child was asking for name brand shoes over the budget friendly countertype. I’ve marked, circled and arrowed a calendar until it looked like a flowchart gone awry. I’ve rearranged my entire week’s activities to transport and show up for any and all sport’s events. I’ve canceled all pending plans in order to sit in an emergency room with a child for no less than 5 hours, on more than one occasion. And I’ve cleaned, dusted, vacuumed, mopped, washed, sanitized, deodorized, purified, and edified a two-story house as part of managing “my estate.”
My mother lived 700 miles away; my mother-in-law, 300 miles. I didn’t have help.
As for my friends? They were doing the same thing I was doing.
The same thing you are doing. So, I get it.
But all of the whining in the world won’t change any of it. This is the world you created. The world you dreamed of. Remember? You just wanted to be married and have children.
Whining about it is the same as saying, “I have this really frustrating issue, and I’m, well, just not going to do anything about it.” What?! We wear our chaos as a badge of courage.
It is not.
It’s wasted whining.
You see, there are thousands, more like millions, of women who have come before you and me who have done all that you are doing (and more) with far less conveniences than you enjoy. It was a good day if they didn’t have to stop everything just to round up the live stock that had scattered all over the country side because one of the kids left the gate open. And we’re upset because the back door was left open while the air conditioner is running.
I’m not saying our life is easy. Heaven’s no. In the “old days,” their chores took longer, but they didn’t have all the activities that we do. We have unparalleled advances, but we have invented ways to fill all the time we saved. So we do have busy lives.
So there’s only three things to do:
- give the kids back to the hospital;
- curl up in a fetal position;
- find answers – the method, the system, the process, the technique, the equipment, the whatever-in-the-world-you-need and start using it!
The point is, perhaps, that we live in a marvelous time. You can access support by phone or skype. You can take a class from the comfort of your home. You can find the information you need to train your children. Husbands are so much more savvy about household responsibilities and open to helping. We really have no excuse to whine.
No one is going to think less of you for being smart enough to find the answer.
I’m suggesting you take answer #3. I feel sorry for the mom (of even one child) who rolls her eyes, sighs, and whines, “I can’t do this!”
These are some of the best years of your life!