As an eldest born, raised by two eldest borns, I have more than my ‘fair share’ of responsibility engrained into my personality. Combine this with a gift-giving nature, someone who likes to work in a team, help others, and contribute in meaningful ways, and you get a person (ME!) who gives out a lot.
It’s just how I am.
And sometimes it can be really useful. I’m the teacher that remembers to ask kids if they need to use the bathroom before we get on the bus! I’m the friend you can usually rely on to help with a meal or vacuuming if you have a baby. You can rely on me to sacrifice my own time in order to help you.
But sometimes it’s not helpful.
I just want to help. It is my nature. If I care about you, I want to be involved in your life and you in mine. I want you to help me move, but on the other side, I also want to help you with meals when you have a baby. I lend clothes, I ask if you’ve thought of trying this nappy cream or that alternative medication. Most of the time I don’t even realise I’m doing it.
But it can be a problem. So I’ve been thinking about what makes it a problem, because of course it is a gift, this desire to help others (much better than having to scrounge around for motivation to get out there and help others, I think!). It’s just that I take it too far to the extreme and then feel really bummed about it, and start viewing it really negatively. Hence the thinking about what makes it a problem instead of being helpful. Because of course I just want to help! Identifying when my helping is not helpful, will, I hope, enable me to stand back sometimes instead of irritating people. Grin.
So when is helping a problem?
A When it isn’t wanted
Especially if the person on the receiving end isn’t confident enough to tell me to back off, that they don’t want my help or my advise, that they’re doing just fine thank you very much. Because of course most of the time I can’t tell that I’m doing something ‘wrong’ if someone doesn’t tell me. So I blithely carry on, trying to be helpful, trying to show love to my friends or family in ways that to me say ‘I love you, I care’ but to them might actually be saying something more like ‘You should be doing something differently’ or ‘I’m being a nosey pain in the you-know-what.’
B When I end up feeling used
You know, when you do things for people but then feel like they just took advantage of your generosity. I need to learn to read people better sometimes, and be a bit more picky who I help and who I don’t, and what specifics that helping entails. Because sometimes I end up feeling used. That someone might not have wanted my friendship as much as I thought, but maybe wanted my gardening skills or whatever. Or that they don’t want to give back to me…now that’s a tricky one as for some people, they simply aren’t givers by nature. And I can have expectations that because I helped them they should now help me, but that’s not always how life works. And sometimes it might be more about ‘paying it forward’ rather than ‘paying it back’ and after all, I should probably be giving without expectation of return. So sometimes, especially if those feelings of being ‘used’ start to creep in and cause me to feel bitter or resentful, I have to remind myself that it is always my choice to give. Or not to give. And that at the end of the day, I choose to give to honour God and he sees that regardless of what the other person does with it. At least God sees my heart, even if others don’t always.
C When it gets in the way of their own growth
Yup, it can be very easy to jump on in and ‘rescue’ people. And sometimes that is not what they need. Sometimes, they might need me to just let them work out their own mistakes or hear from God on their own, or just do life their own way because that might be what they want to do. I find this in the ECE setting too – my desire to protect and nurture every child means that I am loathe to see them take risks. I will automatically put a child on a swing, instead of watching to see if they can get on it by themselves. Not really helpful in encouraging them to learn skills and competence, so something I am working on recognising when I teach. I still want to hold my son’s hand every time he approaches a step on a walk. He is three. He is very competent. And it probably wouldn’t hurt him that much if he did got splat on the path. Fortunately for Munchkin, he is pretty independent so simply refuses the hand if he doesn’t want it! And I’m learning to keep them behind my back a bit more and take my cues from his ability instead of automatically offering.
D When giving to others means my family suffers
Sometimes I can give too much. A friend needs a meal because they’ve been unwell, then someone else moves house so I make one for them too, then another, and another…
Sometimes, my giving to friends or even strangers can cut out my own family. I might sometimes spend too much money or time on others and that means there’s not enough for those closest to me. It’s a balancing act. I gain fulfilment through giving, and believe that God made us to give. I believe it’s good for my family to realise that I don’t exist solely to be their servant either. I just need a reminder sometimes that giving includes those closest to us – the ones that we live with! I need to have balance between being outward focused and inward focused. That’s not to say that I’m going to start spending three hours doing my housework every day all of a sudden! I still believe there are more important things than housework. I do try to keep my house clean (an area I’ve had to work on), but I figure that mostly clean will do. Time for friends, family, and other pursuits is important too.
So there you go. Do you have any thoughts on other times when helping can be more of a hindrance? I’m hoping that now I’ve thought through some of this, next time I am tempted to help someone out, I will do a quick check… “Will they want this/need this?” “Will I feel used if I help this person right now?” “Am I possibly getting in the way of their growth?” and “How will my family feel about this?”