Showing Love by Backing off

I’ve got to stop trying to be helpful! Lately, I find the more I jump in to lend a hand, the more confusion, frustration and chaos I cause. How sad. But true.

I’m a do-er and a helper. Combine that with my waves of high energy or over-caffeinated brain, and you’ve got a Super Servant ready for action. But often I forget that people don’t need (or sometimes even want) my assistance, and it can be rude for me to jump in without asking first. Sometimes I take a helpful leap only to find I’ve done it wrong. Talk about embarrassing! This holds true for my friends, family and even strangers. But I think it’s most significant when dealing with my teenagers.

Just as plants need plenty of fertile soil and room to grow, teens need their space and opportunities to be independent. I tend to forget this, and I inadvertently box my kids in with advice and reminders. My intentions are loving and my desire is to be helpful. But more and more, my two cents is perceived as nagging and intrusive, and it’s disrupting relationships more than strengthening them. So, I’m learning to back off a bit and show more respect for their quest for independence.

Ironically, I often talk about how to help kids STOP their annoying behaviors. I talk about how to look for the underlying need that is contributing to the behavior, and I suggest providing an appropriate alternative to replace the annoying behavior. (This alternative helps fill the unmet need that is underlying and causing the behavior). Well, it seems I’m engaging in an annoying behavior (intrusively helping), and I need an appropriate alternative to help me stop.

In order to show love and be true to my helpful heart while respecting my teens’ space and capabilities, here is the intervention strategy I’ve come up with:

  1.  Share what I see: “Looks like you’ve got a busy week of school ahead of you- big math and science tests and a history project due! How are you feeling about that?”
  2.  Show confidence in my teen. “You’ve done a great job of keeping your grades up all year, and I know you can handle the load next week. I’m going to do my best to not nag you, but I also want you to know I’m here for you. If you happen to need me, just ask.”
  3. Continue to show love in other ways, like making a favorite meal, surprising them by making their bed, putting an extra treat in their lunch box, or writing a note of encouragement and leaving it on their pillow. These gentle reminders tell them that I’m thinking of them and provide a non-intrusive pick-me-up to keep them motivated.

The bottom line is that by respecting my teen’s space and need for independence, I AM showing love and support. It feels counterintuitive, but if I can remember this, I’m sure it will make backing off a bit easier. Showing love by backing off… now that’s going to be a tough one to master!

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