Why I Refuse When My Daughters Ask For Help

by Rachel Perkins
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While on vacation, I had the rare opportunity to lie down and read in peace and quiet. As I mentally escaped into what was a very good read, one of our daughters waltzed in to use our en-suite bathroom. As per usual when I don’t want to be bothered, I promptly snapped my eyes shut and went limp so she would think I was sleeping. Yes, I play possum with my kids in order to preserve my peaceful moments.

After she was done, I lay there listening to her rattle the knob and tug at the door. For some reason, she couldn’t get out of the bathroom. I did nothing but wait for her to either figure it out or to call for help. She was stuck in there for about five minutes before she managed to escape.

There are people who will think that was cruel. My mother was mortified that I would do that to her. Why couldn’t I get my lazy ass up to open the door for her when she was obviously struggling? It’s because there was a subconscious mini-lesson in being stuck in a bathroom. When she emerged all on her own, she went about her day not even realizing that there was a point to it all: I’m trying to raise capable women rather than damsels in distress.

I do not help my daughters before I see if they can figure it out for themselves. I only have a small percentage of their lives to help influence their character. Every passing year, more and more pieces that make up their personalities and their values become permanent fixtures of who they are. While they’re still malleable, I want my daughters to learn to do things for themselves. I don’t want them to call for help every time something seems a little difficult. I want them to learn to feel the pride of accomplishment that belongs to them alone, because we will not always be there to help them.

Far too often, I hear our girls say “I can’t” and “Help me” before they have even taken a second to try to do minor things. It drives me insane and I won’t help. I have seen them gather up their belongings in the car and sit there with pleading eyes for me to open the door. I won’t. I will wait for them to realize they should open the door first and then grab their things. I have heard them whine that they can’t get the knot out of their shoelace with nary an attempt to do so. I remind them that they didn’t try and I walk away. I have had them bring me their iPad because some error message has popped up impeding their playtime without even reading what it says they need to do. I tell them if they want to continue to play, then they will figure it out.

In 90% of these instances, they will sort it out on their own, and I know I did the right thing when I see a huge smile appear on their faces and hear their voices swell with pride. I remind them that they are smart girls and that they can do so much more than they initially believe they can.

I do not want them to grow into women who don’t fully function on their own. I want them to be complete within themselves and find a mate who will complement who they are. Yes, there are tons of things I have my husband do for me. He is in charge of cutting any watermelon that I bring home. I make a huge mess, there’s watermelon juice everywhere, and I nearly lose a finger every time. I can cut it myself, but he does it better and faster and with less blood loss.

I want them to know that they don’t need a mate to do things for them, but that it’s nice to have someone around who can supplement the areas where they are lacking and that it’s nice to also give that in return to their mate. I don’t want them to feel hopelessly alone when they can’t open a jar. I have had that feeling. If only a man were here to get this God forsaken jar of pickles open! Guess what washed that feeling clear away? I got a hammer, broke the jar, plucked out the pickles, rinsed them off to make sure there was no glass on them, and stored the uneaten pickles in a Tupperware container. It probably wasn’t the safest thing to do, but that pickle tasted like victory.

I don’t want them to waste time in their lives because they’re just waiting for someone else to tell them what to do. If they have something to accomplish, I want them to research it, ask questions of experts, and then proceed to execute — even if no one else is willing to lift a finger to make it happen. Not everything in life is a solo project and no man or woman is an island, but I want them to motivate themselves and not settle for only the things that have been handed to them on a platter.

I need for them to be able to think of solutions when they find themselves in a jam. Life comes with peaks and valleys. When the valleys come, we may not always be able to help them. I don’t want them to be so used to us bailing them out, that when life slaps them with some real shit they can’t recover. I cannot run around with a safety net beneath them for the entirety of their lives. I will let them know what it’s like to smack the ground early so they can learn to cry, have their pity party, and then get up swinging like badasses.

I pray that all of the small things, like being locked in a bathroom and getting knots out of their own shoes, seeps deep into their subconscious and shows them that they are strong, smart and independent. Right now, it’s the tiny victories, but these are stepping stones to tackling bigger challenges that will come. I don’t want them to be princesses waiting for Prince Charming to make it all better.

I will be there for them when they truly need me. I will console them and lend a helping hand after they have tried and failed. I will offer advice on a better way when I see them heading down the wrong path. But I sleep easily at night when I refuse to help my daughters do things that I know they can figure out for themselves — because I know that one day when I am dead and gone they will be fine because I taught them how to save themselves, little by little.