Saturday, February 2, 2013

When Help Isn't Helpful

I'm a helper. I prefer the term advocate, but regardless the label, I truly enjoy the feeling of helping others.

Sometimes to the point of helping because it satisfies a need in me.

Yeah. Selfishness masquerading as helpfulness. It's not pretty. In fact, it's manipulative and damaging.

This particular selfishness tells others, "You're not good enough...without me. Your failures reflect badly...on me."

Intent is important. Sometimes I jump in and help my children for the right reasons: so they learn how life works, so they learn how to accept assistance from others, so they learn the feeling of successful cooperation.

But sometimes, help looks like letting a 16 month old descend a flight of stairs by herself. She can do it, and she knows it. I supervise for safety's sake, but she needs to learn that just because a task is daunting, it shouldn't be ignored. Constantly carrying her up and down teaches her to rely on others to do the hard stuff.

Sometimes, help looks like insisting my 9 year old sort, fold, and put away an entire load of laundry by himself. He can do it, despite his protests to the contrary. And he needs to learn that everyone in a household contributes to getting the needed tasks done. Just because a task is boring doesn't mean it isn't important. Doing the task myself may save time, but it teaches him that procrastination will eventually let you off the hook.

Sometimes, help looks like standing over my 3 year old and supervising the clean up of an accidental spill. He needs to learn that a responsible individual takes care of his own messes and doesn't rely on others to fix his problems. If I wiped the spill, he would learn that the consequences of his actions do not affect him directly.

Sometimes, help looks like saying, "Thank you." to my 10 year old after she has unloaded the dishwasher, instead of telling her she put pots and pans in the wrong places. She is assisting in the running of our household, and criticizing her efforts immediately after she has performed the task will take the wind out of her sails and ensure reluctance the next time her help is needed. If I corrected her right then, I would be teaching her that only perfection is acceptable.

So if you see me standing back and watching my children instead of rushing to correct or assist, please do not assume I am doing nothing. Do not assume I don't see how they are struggling, and please, please do not assume I am being negligent.

I am teaching. I am helping. And it is oh, so hard for me to allow them to try and fail. But it is how we all learn, and I am helping them see that failure is actually a positive thing. I am helping them learn that failure is not something to be feared, but acknowledged and learned from.

Because constant success isn't reality. And helping isn't always helpful in the long run.