I repeat a demand to my “I can do it myself” 3 year-old at least a dozen times per day.
“Everett, ask for help!”
Parenting through this stage of independence absent physical maturity (the three’s) is tough. I encourage my son to try new things but cringe at the thought of cleaning up another failed milk-pouring attempt. I dread the constant fight to help him put his underwear on right-side out with pee-slot in front.
When I tell him to “ask for help” before he tries something, I don’t want to temper his effort as much as I want to limit the impending disaster. I can live with backward underwear. Spilling milk all over the kitchen table at 6 a.m. is more intrusive.
Although I ask Everett to ask me for help, I rarely ask for help from others.
Whether it be help with getting my kids to various activities or help in addressing an issue at home, I tightly guard that responsibility as my own.
I think I know why.
I know what’s best for my children. That’s my job, right? The last thing I need to do is to get another opinion about how to do things better.
Part of me feels like asking for help shows weakness – displaying vulnerability that I’m not comfortable with. Some of this reservation is pride related – the ability to work in chaos makes me feel like I’m doing a good job and being a fully present father.
However I rationalize my “I know best” mentality in regard to parenting my kids, one thing is clear to me – that bull-headed, “everything is fine” attitude has me missing opportunities to be a better husband, father and friend.
I hope I’m not alone.
The concept of asking for help in parenting is multi-faceted. There is physical help – assistance with logistics of getting kids from one activity to another. Asking for physical help is easier for me – often done as quid pro quo with parents I trust.
The type of help that I often ignore is more emotional in nature. This type of help is really about sharing experiences and learning from other parents honestly and openly.
Helping in this way takes a concentrated conversation – without judgment and with unfiltered answers. Sharing the trials of parenthood starts with solid friendships between parents and having courage to let others in.
This is more than friendship – it is parental fellowship.
I realize that I have work to do. This Good-Bad Dad is aiming to practice what I preach – using friends as a sounding board when I’m struggling or as a second opinion when my kid-related verdict is already levied.
Don’t get me wrong, my kids are great. I want to talk about them as superstars most of the time – but not always. The parental help I’m looking for allows me to talk about Everett as a champ at identifying his colors at the same time as I explain my frustration with him trying to hold his infant sister.
If I’m sharing with friends, I want to hear about their kids too – and not just about Johnny making the 11 year-old elite soccer academy. Does threatening to ground him change his behavior? Does he fart at the dinner table too?
Fellowship has no filters if we make it so.
Later tonight, my tired little boy will scream at the uncooperative toothpaste tube before he attempts to brush his teeth by himself. I’ll, again, demand that he, “Ask for help!”
When I do, I’ll think of the parental fellowship I want to create.
Asking for help not only makes us deeper friends but better parents. Helping each other provides a feeling of parental solidarity – allowing us to shun the embarrassment we might feel in bringing up our familial issues.
Sharing can arm us with the knowledge that others have similar issues – no matter how monumental or inconsequential.
Finding fellowship requires that I shed the prideful fear of being vulnerable – the concept at the heart of the daily request I make of my 3 year-old.
One question remains:
Will other parents be joining me?