My eleven-year-old son is a bossy little thing. I'll take part of the blame for that and not necessarily because I'm bossy but because I ask him now and then for help, like, "Can you go make sure the kids (meaning my eight- and five-year-old children) are brushing their teeth?" or cleaning their rooms or getting their cereal. So he's learned to believe he's an extension of me. If he thinks I would or wouldn't want the younger kids to do something then he'll step in and take over: "Put that down now. Put. It. Down. NOW!" or "Why aren't you wearing shoes to ride your bike? You know you should wear shoes. Put them on. Put. Them. On. NOW!" And he always uses my mean voice even when I wouldn't use it. But that's because he's a child of extremes, which I don't take credit for at all. He was born with that little personality trait. He's a good kid--a helpful kid. Just perhaps a little too helpful at times.
This afternoon, the 5yo asked for a juice box. Within two minutes, my older son and he were yelling back and forth at each other. I begged them to stop. "But I'm just trying to help him put the straw in!" the 11yo said in near tears. "Did he ask for help?" I said. "No. But I was just trying to help!"
When I was around five, my brother that was fourteen at the time had a moped bike. One afternoon, he tied a rope to the bike and tied the other end to my red wagon. Then he told me to get in. Being five and seeing only the free and fast ride I was going to get down the road (rather than the inevitably bad and abrupt ending to that ride), I did as I'd been directed to do. I climbed in. Danny started the moped and off we went. He picked up speed. And then my body met the graveled pavement. I slid and flipped and ended up with scrapes and cuts all over my arms and legs and face. It wasn't fun for either of us, although I know he just wanted to help me have a good time. He wasn't being cruel or bossy. He was being a big brother.
I try not to be an advice giver. My mother doesn't give advice, even when you ask for it. Opinions? Sure. But advice? Not so much. So I've always tried to take after her in the restraint she shows. It's become harder as I've gotten older and, in my opinion, much wiser. I have very sage things to share with those who will listen, so why would I want to keep such precious pearls to myself? Surely I can enrich the world if it will only open up its ears and wait for my next quotable moment.
The answer is that most people can figure out how to skin their knees and face and elbows on their own. And they can get that straw into the juice box on their own . . . eventually. And because my idea of 'helping' might be your idea of 'interfering.'
And I know it's hardest to remain restrained when the advice you most want to give is the advice you most need to keep to yourself, and when the person to whom you desperately want to give that advice is someone you love. But if you end up making the rope too long or too short or you don't take into account the potholes or the rocks along the road, you won't be helping. You'll be hurting. And not all wounds like that are going to heal.
I'm just sayin' . . . and I'm just trying to help.