Who of you kids wants to help?
With a mixture of hopeful optimism and sarcasm grounded in experience, when I have my brood in tow, I refer to them as “my helpers”.
My intention is that motivated by positive title they might feel empowered assume their role as a helper. In doing so, they would hopefully leave behind their traditional scripts as an unwilling participants being held hostage in a cart at the grocery store, seeking to sabotage what would take most able-bodied humans a 20 minutes trip. Ah, if I’ve learned anything from Disney, it’s that a girl can dream.
As a mother of four, I often find myself reminding the family that “I need help with the ...” Therefore, this idea of my kids helping out around the house is not something new to our family vocabulary. My eldest has been helping since she could understand the meaning of the verb. Helping play with little brother, grabbing a diaper, putting away toys and other age appropriate acts of service for both her mommy and her baby brother. Initially, it was exciting. She was the “big girl” helping out her little brother. She was eager to give of herself, showing through her actions how she loved mommy and little brother. She wanted to help and so loving came readily and easily. It was pure and beautiful. Little did I know how short-lived those days were. Over time, those affectionate titles lost their luster, and her own sense of autonomy and independence grew. Helping out required her to stop what she was doing and do something for another.
She had to pull away from her own wants to give of herself to another person’s wants. This is tough. Self-denial or putting the needs of another before her own took some serious energies. Some instances resulted in tears while others developed into a spirit of service. She temporarily denied herself of what she wanted at that moment to put the needs of mommy before her own. Each act of help required intentional self-denial. Love had to become intentional. An act of the will. This is huge!
As a parent, I have these little people, these little souls entrusted to me to help form, educate, and nourish so that they will mature into adulthood and have all of the skills needed to flourish in whatever circumstances are placed before them. Sure, I hope they meet the needs and requirements of “adulting” however, I want something more for them. I hope that they have the inner conviction to be giving adults. I also hope that they choose to give of their time and their unique talents to help serve, rather than to be served. Lastly, I hope that they both see and choose to help their fellow neighbor as adults since they have that seed of service planted in their childhood.
So... these thoughts aren’t just vague daydreams to help me bide my time. Rather, these are the goal which I set my sights on to help me remember why I’m trying the impossible. Why do I bother asking for help when I know it’s going to be met with resistance, prolonged sighs and stomping of feet? Why don’t I just pay for someone else to do it? Take the laundry out myself? Save it for the cleaning lady? Spare myself the eye-roles and inevitable complaining.
Nature teaches me that I’m not intended to do this on my own. I’m incapable of asexual reproduction. It took two to make this beautiful mess, it will take at least two to maintain it. In realizing my own need for help I became aware of my dependence upon my family. My rugged individualism does little to help my family grow in unity. By acknowledging my need for help I allow others to give of themselves. They are given the opportunity to realize that they too have a role to play in family life. And over time, this idea of family extends to the human family. Each person has to stretch outside their own comfort level when asked to give help or be helped. This mutual exchange of self-gift requires personal growth and sacrifice on both sides. The giver places the needs of the other before their own interests. Likewise, the receiver encounters humility as she receives the gift of self from another. This beautiful exchange of caring for another sets man apart from the rest of creation. I often find myself chewing on this quote throughout the day: “Man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself.” Restated to my 9-year- old: “When you help me without complaining, it a gift that you make. You are given the chance to grow in virtue and character. When you refuse to help, you are saying you don’t want to make a gift and that you are more important than those around you. Unlike when you choose to help, you are showing love to your family”. Or something along those lines. Thankfully we don’t run statistics here at the home, and so I have no ratios of successes to failures or wins to losses. Those numbers might affect morale.
Yet, the questions remain. Why is it that it is so very difficult to help at times? Despite the positive practice of “paying it forward” or the karmic idea of “what goes around comes around”, there is still this difficulty in putting the needs of your neighbor before those of your own. Back to the image of “my helpers”. Why are they so unwilling to help? Do I just give in to their protests? Sometimes I do, and that part of the gig of parenthood. However, other times I stand my ground and channel the gift of grace.
When I rely upon that otherworldly help, my efforts become elevated beyond the immediate need. My helpers may get a glimpse of something beyond their own immediate wants when they choose to assist another. They are presented with the opportunity to make a sincere gift of themselves and stretch in virtue. When they put aside their own desires and put the needs of another before their own, they can and do become helpers. They grow in character by giving of their time and energies to another, if only for a moment. That moment, though fleeting is not lost, but becomes an instance of virtue. Those instances give hope.
And the funny thing is, through my own vocation, God is asking me to be His helper, forgoing my own will and uniting it to His. It is so very humbling and beautiful!
Jennifer Kelly is a mom of four beautiful kids and a regular contributor to our blog. She resides in Denver, CO.