Right before Thanksgiving a few years back, a dear friend emailed me: “I know this is incredibly presumptuous, and Miss Manners would be scandalized, but I’m wrangling for an invitation.”
I was blown away. Not by her directness (God no!) but by the fact that she felt she had no right to say, “I need a place to be on Thanksgiving. Can you help me?”
We were heading out of town for the holiday, but I immediately called my friend and thanked her for trusting me with the truth and for honoring herself. She was relieved she’d done the right thing by speaking up. Most of us are much quicker to stand up for others than for ourselves. Especially women. On some level we must believe that we don’t deserve to get our emotional needs met. But where does that foolishness come from?
Babies are irresistibly cute so adults fall hard and take care of them. Once they’ve gotten their sweet baby hooks into our hearts, they’re great at expressing their physical and emotional needs. But as our kids grow, our conversations with them center mostly on the physical aspects of life: Sweetheart, are you hungry? Do you want something to drink? Is it nap time? Why don’t you put on a sweater?
As a result, asking for that tangible stuff is very easy for kids: Dad, I need a ride. Mom, I need you to sign this. I want a new computer. I need some money. Because most parents don’t focus on helping kids express emotional needs, tweens and teens rarely say: I need a hug. I need to share this exciting news! I need a shoulder to cry on. I need a kind word. I need a friend. I need you to tell me the truth. I need help.
I asked a bunch of 6th-8th graders to rate themselves on these two statements: “It’s easy for me to ask for help.” and “I pretend things are OK when they aren’t.” The results? 25% of the kids said, “It’s never or almost never easy for me to ask for help.” Another 25% reported that “sometimes” they had trouble asking for help. And here’s another sad finding: A whopping 83% admitted that “sometimes, always or almost always” they pretend things are OK when they really aren’t.
An unwillingness to ask for help coupled with a habit of pretending things are fine when they’re not is no way to live. In fact, when we deny our human need to connect heart-to-heart, we end up short-changing ourselves and the people we’re closest to.
A parent’s role is to raise an emotionally healthy young adult. That includes helping a child recognize what he/she is feeling and learning to ask for support when needed. Of course self-reliance is essential and being able to calm yourself at times of stress is a life-skill, but we’re all interdependent. When we let people love us and help us, we honor the most human part of ourselves.
Turns out my friend was brave enough to express her needs to someone else who gladly opened his heart and home. Consequently she had a wonderful holiday.
This season, hold nothing back. Allow yourself to love and be loved fully, without reservation.