Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I was able to finally go and visit my father. It was great to talk with him in person vs behind a screen or window and to actually touch and hug him. It did my heart so good. He told me a story about a woman he’s befriended at the residence where he lives. This particular lady is currently in a wheelchair. My dad took it upon himself to help wheel her down to dinner over the last couple of weeks (now that they can leave their rooms and gather in the dining room in a scaled back manner). He said that he thought it was the nice thing to do, go to her room before dinner and help her make her way. He was going out of his way to be friendly and assist. However, he shared that he was told by the medical staff that although they appreciated his gesture, that his assistance was preventing the woman from building up her strength and ability to manage on her own. Her need for a wheelchair was intended to be temporary and they wanted her to push herself (literally and physically) to help her progress and get back on her feet. Dad said “I had no idea that my helping her was actually potentially hurting her. So, I’m walking with her but not pushing her.” His story resonated with me.
How many times do we see a need and jump right in to help meet it? I know I’m guilty of that. My daughter just said to me this week, “I don’t need you to try to fix the situation, mom. Just agree with me that it’s hard.” Friends, she was right. It is in my nature, especially with my children (who are adults) to want to find the solution and protect them. I think many of us can relate, especially those of us who are educators or work in some type of helping profession. We can establish a reputation that we are “on call” and at the ready to lend a helping hand, even if one isn’t needed or beneficial to the recipient.
Please hear me correctly, that I’m not saying we don’t ever volunteer to help someone in need, especially a younger someone who depends on us. I’m also not saying that we don’t offer a supportive shoulder or a listening ear. We can be there for others without taking on their circumstance. What I am saying is for us to be more deliberate and discerning before making that move. In my Living S.L.O.W. professional development sessions, I talk about being intentional in our offers to help others. I call it the Caregivers Curse and have blogged on that subject before. If we are too quick to jump in to rescue or save, we may be unintentionally preventing that person (or persons) the opportunity to learn and grow from their situation. I’ll use a simple example to illustrate this point. Consider, if I always did my children’s laundry as they matured, they would never learn to do it themselves. And then they would continue to depend on me to do it, and/or eventually their life partners, should they find them and/or find ones who are willing to do their laundry for them. Laundry is a necessary (but evil) reality of life. A skill they need to (and for the record, do) possess. Plus, if they do their own laundry, that means I don’t have to, and I can use that time doing something else. It saves me time and energy to focus elsewhere.
It can be the same thing with our students, or coworkers, or even our own friends and family. As hard as it may be to see those we care about struggling, sometimes, it is just what they may need to learn and grow to become their own best self. Reflect on your own experiences with difficult times. Think about ways they made you stronger, more resilient, more self-assured in the end. You came through those challenges, perhaps a little bruised and battered, but you are arguably better off. We should want to provide those same learning opportunities for others. Maybe we offer our lessons learned to help people avoid some of the same mistakes. And we can provide words of reassurance, comfort, or encouragement, but it’s impossible to protect everyone from every hurtful scenario. And it’s not our job. We each have our own responsibility to “fix”, care, and nurture ourselves. Use your energy to fill your cup, to ensure you are healthy and well. Walk along side of your friend but don’t push them, especially if they need to learn to walk on their own again. Give them the time and space to get back on their feet, while you work to stay on yours. In time, with kindness, patience and support we can all walk together again in strength.