Learning to not help…

Your child comes into the house crying. She has a scraped and bleeding knee. She tells you what happened and how she got hurt. You answer her questions and give her a hug. Then you walk away, leaving her crying and bleeding, and go back to what you were doing.

Can you imagine doing this? As a mom?! That’s not the way most moms are wired. It’s a mother’s job to make things better. Right? To take care of things. Fix things. Get the bandaids, bring the kleenex, solve the problems. Moms are not supposed to just walk away … leaving their children still hurting … to fend for themselves … heal their own wounds … solve their own problems … make their own decisions … manage the consequences of their choices … learn to take care of themselves … be motivated to prevent future injury by changing their actions … okay, wait a minute. Those last few things sounded important. Those are good things to learn.

Not helping my children in times of struggle or pain has been the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn as a mother. All I ever wanted for my kids was for them to be happy and healthy. And yet our most profound learning and growth comes through our struggles, our challenges, our tough decisions, and our physical and emotional pain. When parents step in and help too early or too often, they rob their children of important and often essential lessons.

When we are pushed to our limits, we learn the most about ourselves and the path we were meant to be on. When we think we can’t handle any more, and then we do, we learn that we are more capable and have more inner strength than we realized. When we keep pushing stubbornly in one direction until things start getting worse, rather than better, we can finally accept the need to switch paths. When we have trouble managing our finances and money gets really tight, we learn what’s really important to us and how little we actually need to get by.

A complicating factor is that the help offered might be the wrong kind of help. When trying to solve a problem, I typically put myself in the other person’s shoes. I then figure out what kind of help would make me feel better. But each person has his own insecurities, concerns, and goals. The things that would make me feel more comfortable and secure might not resolve the key problems for him…and might actually aggravate his situation.

Helping each other is an important part of family life. There are times when we really do need a back to lean on, a shoulder to cry on, or a cushion to fall on. And being able to help, to really make a difference in another person’s life, is intensely rewarding. It’s also important for kids to know how to ask for help, and for their parents to realize how much courage that takes.

When our kids ask, we really want to be able to say “yes”…and we do that as often as we can. But there are times when “no” is the most loving and helpful answer. I’m still working on learning that one.

-Jenne Hiigel

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Children are capable…

Reading through various news stories over the past decade or so, I learned that a 17-year-old bicycled from New Jersey to Oregon by herself; a 14-year-old completed a solo voyage across the Atlantic; a confident 6-year-old sang a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” on national TV; and a 9-year-old took the subway by himself across Manhattan and made it home unscathed and empowered. Are these children amazingly gifted, or are most children capable of achieving things that the majority of adults believe them to be incapable of?

In a conversation with our oldest daughter, when she reached her mid-twenties, she mentioned that she was glad she had finally reached an age where people were no longer amazed at what she was capable of doing. It was causing her much irritation that so many adults were surprised by her abilities, once they discovered her age. It is clear that our society has little faith in the potential skills of those under eighteen.

In our own family we saw a 5-year-old reading young adult books; an 8-year-old participate in a meeting with seven other adults about her educational options…and make the final decision about her future; a 12-year-old attend junior college; and a 13-year-old test out of high school. I am regularly told that we are amazing parents and that our children are especially gifted, based on their achievements. I typically respond that our family’s abilities are no different than most other families. Our children are just normal kids who have been allowed to tap into their natural potential.

My response is often brushed away as untrue, as I’m told that we just aren’t aware of the ways in which we are imparting our knowledge to our children. Because these people believe us to be more capable than most, they then conclude that our approach to child rearing and education would not work for other families. In reality, it is our attitude towards each other that makes our family atypical, far more than any perceived collective intelligence. The unique quality of our family is that we have always tried to show true respect for each person’s needs, concerns and opinions, regardless of their age. It’s strange to me how unusual that is.

-Jenne Hiigel