Sometimes it’s the way he folds towels. Or the way she drives. Maybe you think he should have chosen a better route to dinner.
There is a very fine line between helping and controlling. When I found myself giving driving tips to a man who has been to numerous tactical driving courses, I realized it was quite possible that I had crossed it. In fact, it got so bad in our family that when we missed a turn while driving, my husband’s honest response was “I figured you’d tell me when I needed to turn.” He had learned to drive on auto-pilot with the expectation that I’d tell him where to go, because that’s what I had always done. (A low moment for a controller in a state of denial.)
The funny thing is that I could always justify my controlling ways. After all, I was just trying to help. “If you fold the towels in half, they won’t fit on the shelf. You have to fold them in thirds.” “There are groceries in the back. They’ll spill if you stop too fast.” “Traffic is terrible on that road. We’ll get there faster if you take this road instead of that one.”
If you are a “helper” like me, look around you for others like us. You may find them on tv. You may find them in your circle of friends. Or even in your family. Wherever you find them, take a few minutes to watch. But do so at your own risk, because you may not like what you see.
You may even find, as I did, that there are tiny “helpers” living among you. The only difference in my house is that my apprentice hasn’t learned to “church it up” in the name of helping others.
Child 1: “Can I please have a turn on the video game?”
Helper: “You’re supposed to say ‘Can I have a turn on the video game, please? The please comes at the end.”
Whatever we call it, to those on the receiving end, it feels like control. And if it really is our attempt at helping, they’d rather we didn’t. They’d prefer that we accept their way of doing things instead of always finding something to criticize or change.
It’s not always easy to bite your tongue, but it’s worth the effort. Try it just once. You may miss a few turns or spill a few groceries as your family adjusts to your new way of doing things, but you’ll reduce the discord within your family. And perhaps it’s not too late to rehabilitate the other “helper” prodigies who live with you.