Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just Say "Yes"

How often do we hear our young children asking, “Can I help, Mommy?” What emotions does that sweet and thoughtful request actually evoke in us? Could it be something like, “Ugh! I just want to get this done quickly and move on!” or “That’ll be a mess to contend with” or “There’s no way it will be done right to my standards, so then I’ll have to do it over again”? How quickly these pre-programmed, negative thoughts can enter our minds as to provoke us to give some type of verbal response as, “No thank you, honey. You go and play.”

Great, well-intentioned parents like us continually squelch our children’s natural inclination to be helpful and contribute. Why? Because in a task-oriented age of instant everything we hesitate to accept short-term discomfort now, even though we are inadvertently teaching at this moment the opposite of a value we wish to instill in our kids: that of a helpful contributor to the family and to the community at large for that matter.

Sure when the kids get older and can almost master a task we sign them up for all kinds of household chores. But what have we done when they were little to provide them some practice and experience the feelings of satisfaction when they have been allowed to help someone? Heck, yesterday even when my nine-year-old (no spring chicken) daughter asked me if I needed help putting away the groceries, I had to bite back the “No, thank you” at the tip of my tongue and allow the “Yes, please, I’d love your help” to emerge. Why is my knee-jerk response still a “No”? I reflected on what my initial thought was as she angelically uttered those words that we think us parents want to hear often, yet time and time again tend to reject. We think, “I need to get dinner started and she will ask me where half the stuff goes anyway. I might as well get it done more quickly myself.” Yet that initial thought chain does not support my long term goal of instilling helpfulness, thoughtfulness, kindness and even philanthropy in my daughter.

After she and I finished putting everything away, which probably took 37 seconds longer with her aid, I sincerely thanked her for kindly offering to help me and pointed out how much more fun it was tackling the job together. She grinned from ear to ear, feeling proud of herself, knowing her actions, however small, can have an impact on others and induce a warm feeling of satisfaction within her. Without missing a beat, her next offer followed, “Can I help you make dinner?”

Note to self this Summer: Let our children experience our true love and devotion by allowing them to contribute in their 'imperfect' way. Ask for help from our kids often, even when we don't need it, and always accept assistance from them although their 'helpfulness' is more work for us right now. The job that tests our ability to delay gratification will pay off with less work some years down the line. Sigh! Yes, good parents, we are frequently talking years!

Evie Estes, PCI Certified Parent Coach®, mom of three

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