“May I help you?” This is an expression that we teach our children to pose in a variety of circumstances such as when groceries need to be put away; when household chores need to be done; or when someone, in general, is having trouble doing something. We also teach our children to ask this question when they have the ability to offer help and give assistance to make someone else’s life a little bit easier.
“May I help you?” All of us have good intentions when we have asked someone if they needed our help. Yet, have you ever thought about the person on the other end of that question? Sometimes when we think we are doing someone a favor by asking, what we may be doing, albeit unintentionally, is putting that person in an uncomfortable or awkward situation.
I can remember a very stressful time when I was dealing with some family issues and I was not able to tend to some of my “normal” household chores and activities. Having a wonderful circle of friends and support, almost each day someone would ask, “How can I help?” “Do you want me to bring your family dinner?” “Do you need me to go shopping for you?” “ Can I make any calls for you?” “What can I do to help you?” I know that all my friends had good intentions and were sincere about all their offers to help. I don’t know what fault it was/is with my character, that I found/find it very difficult to accept help.
Whenever anyone was there to offer help, it put me in an uncomfortable position. If I had said “yes” to some of these offers, I often felt like I was burdening my friends or asking them to do something that may interfere with their activities and daily lives. Needless to say, there were many times and instances when I definitely could have used some support yet something would get in the way of my accepting such offers.
At one point during that same stressful time - when I was totally sleep deprived, hungry for “real” food, and feeling extremely sorry for myself, I remember thinking, “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if someone would help?” It was then that I realized three things. First, I had some issues that I needed to deal with when it comes to being able to accept help from others. Second, I realized that it would have been less stressful for me if, instead of asking to help me, people just stepped right in. It was also then that I remembered my Mom.
My Mom would always tell us, a family of five children, the same thing after each meal when we would ask, “Do you want help clearing the table and doing the dishes?” She would reply, “Don’t ask…DO!!” Wow! Now I really understand what that phrase is all about!
It is not bad or wrong to teach our children to be there to offer help when they see that a family member, friend or anyone is in need. Yet think about how beautiful and powerful it would be if we were to teach our children to just help out without asking if help is needed. Remember hearing the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words?”
I know that I have a problem in accepting help sometimes. I will work on this. However, I do not think I am alone. In fact, I know I am not alone! And yes, I too have made the mistake of “offering” to help others instead of just getting involved. (I will work on this, too!) Needless to say, I often met my match and found that my sincere offers to help were rejected even though I knew my help would have been appreciated. Of course, there have been those times when I have had my “offers to help” be accepted and that, was a win-win for all!
When one helps another, both gain in strength.
Once again I concede that my Mom was right. Perhaps it is time to teach and encourage our children not to “offer” but just to DO! Do we always really need to ask for someone’s permission to help or to give? When we do teach our children the art of unsolicited giving or helping we must also make sure that we teach our children the different types of giving and help that we all have within us. In fact, some of the most powerful ways we can support each other are intangible. Think about this little story next time you are faced with a situation where you think you have no ways to help or no means to give:
Her little girl was late arriving home from school, so the mother asked her why:
“I had to help another girl. She was in trouble,” replied the daughter.
“What did you do to help her?”
“Oh, I sat down and helped her cry.”
“May I help you?” Of course I am not advocating that we never again ask others whether our help or support is needed. What I have experienced though, is that our unsolicited actions of help and support – whether they be cooking, cleaning or sharing a good cry, are often more appreciated, meaningful, and rewarding--for everyone.