Dad makes dinner

Parenting: The Biggest Job’s Priority #9, “The Humility To Ask For And Accept Help,” sounds deceptively easy.

“Sure, I have humility. Yes, I can ask for help. I have a lot going on in my life; I love help.”

It is the sub-text of this internal conversation that can affect our parenting. For many parents the sub-text/inner voice sounds something like this, “I know I don’t run the universe; but I should be able to if I really set my mind to it,” and, “I’ll let you help if you do it my way.”

When we practice this priority, we can’t be selective about whom we ask for help. Sometimes the help we need comes from our children. Sometimes the help we need comes in a form that does not initially feel like help. In the following scenarios, see if you can identify with what the parents are going through.

Scenario 1:

The mother has been the primary meal-preparer for her husband and two young children. One evening she explodes at her husband, “I have laundry that needs to be put in the dryer; Jimmy dropped the hamster; Theresa can’t find her book, and we are all starving. Can you just take care of something?” He offers to make the dinner. His creativity comes out and is expressed through a casserole concoction with no fewer than six ingredients from the cabinet and refrigerator. When the family arrives distractedly to the table with their stomachs growling, Jimmy starts crying at the sight of something green in his macaroni. The mother cries in frustration, “Why couldn’t you just do something simple that they’d eat?” Then she makes a hamburger for Jimmy and helps Theresa pick the “icky” things out of her casserole. Everyone goes to bed feeling a little wretched.

What happened here? The mother thought she asked for help and did not receive it. In fact, she received help, but she did not accept it.

Ideally, the parents could discuss the situation the following day and share how each could have done things differently to improve the way the family works together.

Scenario 2:

A parent is feeling overwhelmed by challenges at work. When the family comes together at the end of the day, he puts a smile on and chats with his wife and kids. “My day was fine,” he smiles. He knows that they do not understand the complexities of the work he does. He believes that it will not help anyone to talk about how he is feeling; additionally he worries that it would put an unnecessary burden on his family. At the same time, his family senses a strain without knowing what it is. Each family member reacts differently, but wonders if it is s/he that is causing the tension. “Why hasn’t dad been coming to my games?” Jill wonders. As time goes on, this situation mounts with everyone becoming more impatient and short-tempered. Finally, without going into details, the father shares in a family meeting, “I am frustrated at work and I’m having a hard time keeping my mind off the situation while I’m at home. Everything seems more complicated with the new contract we have and I don’t know how it will turn out.”

What happened here? What the father did was clear the air. The father can now answer the kids’ questions about whether he will leave his job or not. The home feels like a more supportive place now that the tension has been named. The father had the humility to admit that he didn’t have everything under control and did not know what the solution would be. The rest of the family felt his trust in them, as he confided his mixed emotions about the challenges he was facing. The father’s act of humility and truth pulls the family closer.

In both of these scenarios the parent needs help, whether it be actionable help or supportive help. And remember, when you do ask for help, to be open to the forms that you receive it in. Help comes in all shapes and sizes!