I have found that most people like to think that they are being helpful. What if that help isn’t actually helpful though? Is it rude to say so? I was raised to accept what was offered to me and that to refuse an offer of help or a gift was rude. However, the older I get, the more I am challenging this idea.
Twice recently I have said that I didn’t need or want something that was being offered to me. I tried to do so politely, but I wasn’t listened to. I know this because I got an email a few days ago about organising the installation of this particular item; they had taken all control out of my hands and had decided that I not only needed it, but that they were going to organise everything for me. This is an item that I do not want or need, and actually it would be detrimental for me to have it installed. Rather than helping it would take up valuable space that I need for other more important things.
This is not the first time that I have encountered a lack of listening to what a person actually wants and needs. When I moved out of home into my flat, my paternal grandmother decided that I needed a tumble dryer and paid for one. I wasn’t consulted at all. My maternal grandmother has kept a hostess trolley for me for many years in her garage; at no point have I ever been asked if I want one. The only way we have managed not to have it, is by saying that there is no space for it here; that is the only reason that is acceptable to her. When our family moved into our current house, she also decided that I needed a dishwasher and paid for it. This time I did have space so there was no refusing allowed. I was and continue to be grateful for their kindness and concern for my family’s needs, but surely I get a say in what we need, want or can fit into my own house?
It is not always with physical items that it happens. Sometimes, people will with the best of intentions tell me that they or someone else will have Pigeon and Parrot so that I can go out and do other things. A lovely thought, but unless they are willing to do that each week as a regular commitment, then it isn’t helpful as it unsettles the boys. I was invited on an all-day spa trip for carers last year and told that the organiser had sorted someone out to have the boys for the ten hours. That ten hour period went across two mealtimes and Parrot’s bedtime. If someone else other than me looks after him at these times, it triggers the fear that he is moving families again. When a child is adopted, the new family take over key parts of the daily routine until they are doing them all. The ten hour period of childcare would cover most of those key routines and completely unsettle him for months. Pigeon just doesn’t like being left for that long with a non-family member. One day of relative calm for me would be paid for with months of chaos, unsettled children, rejection behaviours and many damages in the house. A lovely offer on the surface, but really not worth it.
At a basic level, I think it comes down to boundaries and whether people respect them or not. I was loved and wanted, but my boundaries and my thoughts haven’t always been respected; so I learned as a child that my opinion is not valuable or relevant. This has led to boundary issues in relationships and friendships, where I haven’t always stood up for myself and suffered as a result. Over the last ten years, I have slowly learnt that my opinion and thoughts are valuable and I do have something to contribute. The most important lesson however, was to politely challenge violations of my boundaries.
Ten years ago, I probably would have just backed down and accepted an offered item and the hassles it brought into my life. Not anymore! I sent an email back explaining that I neither wanted nor needed the item in question. I said that whilst I was grateful for the offer, it would bring problems rather than help and offered alternative solutions. I didn’t go on the carers’ spa day; I suggested another special needs mum to take my place. If you are wondering about the dishwasher and tumble dryer, they are no longer in our house. I gave the dishwasher to a friend a year ago and sold the tumble dryer in order to buy a large clothes airer. I am taking back my right to politely say no. I am also teaching Pigeon and Parrot that unless an offer of help or a gift is helpful to them, they can say no. We don’t have to continue in the way that we were raised, we can decide to do things differently. So my boys will be raised with their opinions respected and their thoughts considered as valuable contributions.
Before we offer a ready-made help package, we should perhaps ask that person or family, “Can I help you in any way? Is there anything that you need or that I could do for you?” If we really have their best interests at heart, then we will actually listen and act upon their answer.