HELP: NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD

“How many of the women in this room would like to be served by their husbands?” 

The congregation chuckled (because men serving their wives is funny…?) and the older couple continued with their announcement about the church’s annual women’s tea, hosted and served by the men.

I’m sure the tea will be lovely, but having built my marriage on the principles of mutual submission that are so clearly outlined in the same Bible that I’m assuming everyone else at my church reads, I couldn’t help wondering, “Why aren’t their husbands serving them already?” 

Not because I’m a feminist. (Which, I am.) 

Not because I am spoiled by my husband. (Which I am.)

But because service is at the heart of marriage. Wives serving husbands. Husbands serving wives. I don’t need to go to a special event once a year where my husband will ask if I would like him to butter my scone (which wasn’t intended to be an innuendo but I’m pretty sure is, and I’m just going to leave it there) because on all of the other days, he takes out the trash, remembers to keep the fridge stocked with my favorite non-alcolohic beer, and works tirelessly to make a living that allows me to be the one with our kids every day. It’s the same reason I don’t buy into Valentine’s Day. Right now, he and the Bug are at the carwash with my car so I can be doing this: 

Creating a culture of service within our family is one of my most closely held ambitions as a wife and mother. (I’ve written before about my prayer that my son would have a servant’s heart.) I want my children to know that caring for them is a joy, not just in the fun, silly, and exciting moments, but in the everyday, mundane, and even frustrating ones.

Sometimes seeming at odds, is my second (or, if I’m being honest, perhaps my first) passion as a mother: fostering independence. I often feel like I’m walking a tightrope between independence and service, striving to allow my children the opportunities to see how capable they are while still coming alongside them to help when they need it. Inviting independence but not requiring it.

[side note: husband just texted that he’s bringing me tacos #husbandoftheyear #buttermyscone]

I recently read a beautiful post by Angela Mills about the joy she finds in helping her daughter, in spite of a parenting culture that tells us we shouldn’t do anything for a child that she can do for herself. The message she writes about rejecting is one we hear so often, one that plays perfectly into the American obsession with self. I shouldn’t have to do this for my child; he knows how to do it himself. It is no longer my responsibility, my problem.

Now, I am borderline fanatical about allowing my children to do (or try to do) anything for themselves that they have an interest in doing. And, as a result, they do a lot of things for themselves. But it isn’t because I don’t want to do those things. It is because I value their autonomy. It is because I want them to know that I trust them to solve their own problems. It is because doing something for yourself feels good.

But you know what else feels good?

Having someone help you when you ask.

I can walk to the fridge to get my own O’Doul’s, but after a long day with the kids (choose any day between Monday and Sunday), if I ask Caleb to grab me one while he’s in the kitchen, he does and does it happily. 

Why wouldn’t I do that for my child?

Even though he’s perfectly capable of putting his own cup in the sink, if the Bug asks me to do it for him because he’s busy reading a book or playing with his sister, I’m going to do it because I would like to be extended the same courtesy. 

And – you know what? – I am extended that same courtesy every time we’re gardening and the Bug comes across my abandoned water in some remote corner of the yard, stops what he’s doing, and brings it to me, “case [I] get thirsty.” His sister is extended that same courtesy when we’re getting ready for bed and, instead of just finding his own lovey and bringing it to the bedroom, he brings hers as well. His father is extended that same courtesy when he’s getting ready for work in the morning and the Bug holds out the second shoe while Dad puts on the first. 

In our gusto to follow the “rules” and do everything “right” (whatever that is), I think we sometimes forget that there is a difference between help that undermines learning and help that graciously acknowledges community. Just as there is a difference between demanding independence and allowing it. 

Perhaps a healthier message, then, is not to do anything for your child that he would like to do for himself. 

Those are the times that “help” is actually a disservice. When we swoop in and put the pants on because we’re anxious to get out the door and they’ve gone on backwards six times in a row. (Alternatives: suggest turning the pants over or, better yet, just wait.) When we discreetly nudge the shape sorter so the piece will fall through the opening and spare our baby the frustration of working it out herself. (Alternatives: “You’re working hard to figure that out,” “Almost,” or “What else can you try?”) When we scoop up a toddler painstakingly trying to navigate climbing into his own stroller and just plop him in the seat. (Alternative: stay close and spot.)

But even those moments when we stop ourselves from rescuing our children (or ourselves) from frustration and we offer support instead of “help” are meant to be deeply connected. It isn’t about telling a child that he’s on his own; it’s about telling him that we are beside him, believing he can do it. My hope is that my children will learn they can do things for themselves, not that they must.

So I will continue to sit back and observe. 

And I will continue to step in and help.

And, when in doubt, I will always err on the side of too much love.

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