The Joys and Agony of Parenting

Helping  Completely

by Kenneth L. Stewart, Ph.D.  

Helping – Coercing, Smooth Talk,

Manipulation – Completely

Its hard to help others. Especially those close to us.

No matter how much we might think we know, our

how much think we can do, in the end, we are still helpless.

If we delude ourselves into thinking we can for others all the things we hope we can, we only succeed in making ourselves miserable and others angry. The funny thing is, the age after which help becomes an impossibility varies a lot from person to person. Some people can be helped up until their 20's or even in some instances, their 30's. But most people stop taking in help somewhere along in their middle teens. And for some, it starts as young as 7 or 8.

So determined are some people to write their own story that no amount of coercing, smooth talk, or manipulation will do. When we finally wake up and discover this fact, the best we can do is admire the human spirit of independence and determination. Even though excesses of independence can lead to a dangerous isolation from needed knowledge and excesses of determination can result in a dangerously narrowed vision, independence and determination too often wins out over sage advice.

Yet, lives get lived, stories get written and fates get sealed by refusing help from others. And all we can do is wait, watch, and pray. And wrestle with our own helplessness. For those of us who don't accept defeat easily, this is a very difficult thing to do. If we don't accept defeat easily it probably means that we too know something about independence from advice and help. But, when it comes to offering it to someone who we think should take it, like a child or spouse or parent, we become offended when our offers our rejected. Sometimes strongly rejected. We become indignant. We come to almost resent the strong determination of the other person. They are going to determine themselves and not be deterred by anyone else.

This kind of determination is easy to accept from someone not close to us. We don't have as much investment in their lives. They can mess up their lives for all we care. But for someone close to us, those in whom we have invested our hopes, our dreams, our ambitions, for those people, we believe that we should have some influence. We deserved to be listened to. They owe us that much. We believe this because we think that by virtue of our closeness with the other person, we are owed some kind of loyalty. But, to the other person, the son, daughter, sibling, or parent, or spouse, this loyalty feels like a yoke instead of a pleasant and powerful bond. And if they mess up their lives, we feel partly responsible. Sometimes, their failure to act loyally and take our advice gets turned into an indebtedness we feel to our ambitions. Failed ambitions at that. Like some internal Tower of Babel, our ambitions for others soon collapses

The hardest lesson to learn is often not how to master some complex and difficult task, but how to come to terms with our helplessness. Knowing not what we can do, but what we can't do is often the better part of wisdom.