Be curious. Ask why. Be brave. Ask for help.
My son and I have good discussions. Great discussions. Hard discussions. I remember lots of knocking and kicking when he was in the womb, no doubt he was crafting scripts for the endless questions he had for us. He was the kid who taught himself to tie his shoes, ride a bike, and construct the perfect paper airplane. Once he figured things out, he taught others. I distinctly remember when our youngest was potty training, and I heard him holler, “Come on Zavy, I’ll teach you how to hook your heinie to the potty!”
So his questioning for us did not involve actually needing us, but rather knowing what was behind the “why” for all things. Yes, way before Simon Sinek started excavating WHY, our guy had the word turned inside out.
Here’s a sampling:
Age 3: “Why do you and Papa get to stay up and we have to go to bed?”
Age 5: Second day of kindergarten: “What?! Again?! Why do I have to go again? I already went to kindergarten yesterday?”
As he got older, the questioning was focused on trying new things… “Can I play baseball and soccer, then give archery a try, and why not gymnastics and tennis? Maybe mountain biking and guitar?” Unicycling sounds fun and the saxophone – let’s get one! Swimming grabbed his attention for a minute as did basketball and even church retreats. Chess was fleeting…too much sitting. Then came badminton, ping pong, rollerblading, skateboarding, Ripstick, scooter-riding, cross-country, and frisbee golf. He asked and we said yes.
The mess that is Middle School kicked off with the classics from our son (and daughter):
“Why can’t I have a cell phone in 6th grade? EVERYONE else has a cell phone, Mama…I – mean – everyone!” My daughter chimed in, “LITERALLY EVERYONE!!!”
I answered as candidly as possible, “First off, because we are not everyone.” AND (my go-to answer for all injustices questioned) “Everyone does things differently.”
High school hit me with: “Why can’t my curfew be the same as all my friends?” My answer: “Simple. Because nothing good happens between 11:00 pm and 3:00 am…NOTHING! AND everyone does things differently.”
I was learning to arrive armed with answers and time to process the reasoning because there’s not a teenager out there who accepts your first response. Unless of course you were born before 1975…then “Because I said so.” was the final answer.
At our son’s conferences in 8th grade, his teachers each applauded him for asking great questions. “Not the off-the-wall questions either.” one teacher stressed. “He is content-driven.” Apparently, all that inquisitive training at home prepared him for school. He mentioned later that in elementary school he hesitated to raise his hand for fear of getting the wrong answer. We do that…worry about being wrong, embarrassed, or judged.
“More importantly” one teacher continued, “He asks for help if he needs it.”
Whoa! This coming from the same kid that hollers for the universe to hear, “No! I don’t need help with my homework!” Maybe my barrage of “Do you need help, now? Now? Now?” was exhausting.
I have always been intrigued by the reasons some people ask for help and others don’t. There is the number one worry the answer will be “No” – but also, Stanford social psychologist Xuan Zhao, flat out says people are worried about inconveniencing others if they ask for help. Others may fear that asking for help would make them appear incompetent and inferior –even children as young as seven years old believe this. At some point, all children struggle to ask for help, but kids are not alone, adults also have a fear of exposing themselves to the need for help. It takes courage and vulnerability to ask.
Author Brene Brown says, “When you cannot accept and ask for help without self-judgment, then when you offer other people help, you are always doing so with judgment…when you don’t extract worthiness and you think, ‘I’m just helping you because one day I’m gonna need help’ — that’s connection. That’s vulnerability.” So mustering up the courage to ask for help is dependent on how we see ourselves and others.
What I learned:
My son leans in the direction of calculated answers. His brain craves knowing why – like a flower covets the sun. Raising kids who ask questions is a challenge because we don’t always have answers. I scoured Barnes and Noble shelves looking for a “what to say when your child asks…”. No luck. Thinking back, if I could tell my 16-year-old self one thing it would be to ASK! Ask for help on the physics test, ask someone to go to prom, ask why the point was taken off on your essay, or how you can get your grade up. Ask if you can go to the Braves playoff game or skiing with a friend. ASK!
Moreover, there comes a point when we all need help. Someone to take your daughter to swim practice, help find your dog, move a couch, take you to the airport. Then suddenly AARP starts sending us magazines reminding us how old we are and our need for help increases. Maybe it’s a ride to the eye doctor or church – maybe we need help fixing a fence or simply someone to hold our hand when we are disoriented with grief.
The good news is – when we ask for help, it is absolutely cathartic for those who say, “Yes, I can.” The gift of time gives us a sense of meaning and purpose…
For it is in the giving that we receive. St. Francis of Assisi’s words ring true.
We each had a cavern in our souls filled with wonder and curiosity…all we have to do is set aside our fears…and simply ask. Ask why? Ask for help. Ask.
Thanks for joining me,
“And when you’re done, you may take a long, quavering breath and say, ‘Help.’ People say ‘help’ without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”
Anne Lamott –Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers