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.)