If you ask my parents, siblings, husband, or friends one of the things that drive them the craziest about me, they would tell you it’s that I am always late. But if you ask them what comes second, they will likely say my frustration when people force help upon me.
If you ask my brother, he will tell you about the time I yelled at him when we were kids when he stopped me from almost getting hit by a car. Apparently, I thought I had it under control and didn’t need his brotherly assistance.
I am that person who takes offense when men approach me in home improvement stores, electronic stores, or pretty much anywhere to offer assistance. Even if I could actually use the help. This reaction is not limited to men. I am equally vocal when women give unsolicited advice. When salespeople try and show me how to do things at the self-checkout, or someone tries to upsell me on any product ever.
I won’t deny that I sometimes take this attitude too far. My desire to make it clear that I can do it (my two-year-old’s favorite phrase) can often be hurtful to someone who is just trying to do their job or insulting to someone whose mom raised them to be a gentleman. I should be nicer about my refusal of help.
But that still doesn’t mean I have to accept that help.
We are fortunate to exist in a time where we’ve started to encourage people to ask for help when they need it. We tell moms that they don’t have to do it alone. And we encourage women to reach out to friends and family and to stop trying to “do it all” all the time. That’s great. We need people to know that they don’t have to hide their limitations, vulnerabilities, and fears.
But that doesn’t mean that you must accept all help. Sometimes help comes with baggage that you don’t want.
After both my pregnancies, I often found help to be a struggle. Sometimes it was because I didn’t want to feel like a patient in my own home or because I was desperate to create my own systems that I knew I needed in place for me to cope.
But mostly, it was because I needed to know that I could do it myself when everyone was gone, and it was just my kids and me.
I used to feel that way before I was married when I would take out the trash or mow the lawn. I would tell myself that I could handle things even if I never met someone to spend my life with. Nowadays, I prefer it when my husband takes out the trash (because it’s just gross), but when I am the one that does take it on, I feel empowered.
I guess that’s what I want to tell the guy at the store who wants to help me put five gallons of water in my cart. Maybe he needs to do that so he can rest easy at night, but I need him to believe that unless I am sprawled out on the floor crying for help drowning in spilled water, I can do it. Maybe I shouldn’t punish him for asking. Perhaps I should be gracious about offers of help. But I know he should also be gracious about my refusal.
I can’t pretend that I won’t still swear (loudly) under my breath if a guy says good choice when I’m picking out power tools, but that’s just something I’m going to have to work on.
I want to teach both my son and my daughter that they can ask for help, and they can refuse help, and it’s their choice.
Sometimes the best help you can give is believing that someone can do it alone and giving them the space to do it.