Not Demanding Help

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I’d call his performance lackluster, but *lackluster* is too high quality a word to describe such poor performance.

*Meh* is the right sized word, but it fails to encapsulate the horrible job he did setting the table.

He put out no silverware.

No beverages.

Just three glasses, three plates, and two napkins.

“Dad, I did it. Can I go back downstairs? I’m done.”

I laugh. “Sure. Go.”

He leaves, and I finish the job, adding another plate, a glass, and the rest of the missing items.

There are four of us, after all.

***

In the book, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, Malidoma Some writes:

Unless someone has a willing heart,

what they are helping you with might spoil.

How true. How true.

Emmett had no interest in setting the table for dinner. He wanted to be downstairs on his console, playing with his friends.

I made him come up.

He didn’t have a willing heart.

Consequently, the thing I was asking him to help with might have spoiled.

***

You might believe—backed by your lack of experience with my child—that you know better what I should have done in that situation.

“I was a great parent,” says my friend Noa, “Until I had children.”

You might think I ought to have made him stay and do the job I wanted him to do.

You might think I should have held him to a higher standard of work.

I didn’t.

I didn’t make him do the thing he didn’t want to do.

I didn’t want to force him.

Unless someone has a willing heart,

what they are helping you with might spoil.

I didn’t want to take the chance that the evening would spoil.

***

Though I had asked him nicely to come up to help, it was, nonetheless, a demand.

Let me explain.

(Stick with me because this is a great bit of wisdom.)

It doesn’t matter how nice the request is: it’s a demand if the person who hears it thinks that it will be held against them if they do not comply.

(You might need to re-read that.)

I’ve taught this to enough people to know that you might not like this.

However, not liking something doesn’t mean it’s not true.

A request is a request only if the person being asked doesn’t think there will be negative consequences for non compliance.

As long as Emmett thought that I would hold it against him if he didn’t set the table, it was a demand.

And, so it was.

I don’t need to get my way all the time, just as he shouldn’t expect to get his way all the time.

And that’s why I backed down.

***

My parenting is about the long game.

You told me you are going to be home at 6:30, and you walk in at 6:34? I might tell you that I don’t like it, but I’m not going to explode.

If I had acted out against my boy for his lackluster job of setting the table, what good would that have done?

It would have increased the chances of dinner being spoiled, and it would have solidified to him that my request was not a request, but a demand.

So, I let it go.

I finished setting the table and then called him, Jane, and Annie for dinner.

It was homemade pizza. One deep dish. One not. Both yum!

***

A few days later, as he stood in the kitchen, undoing the dishwasher, chatting with me about his day in school, and setting the table (with four settings), I congratulated myself on my choice.

It seems it was a better move to take his help when he was willing to give it, when he had a willing heart.

****

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