I grew up with an aunt who is a person with a disability. She is beautiful and wonderful and when I was little I couldn’t spend enough time with her. In her mind she is about 9 years old. To a 9 year old this is amazing. We played dolls and dress up. We spent hours in make believe worlds where we were princesses and no one ever judged us. As I got older those make believe worlds faded for me but they never did for her. As a 13 year old I would indulge her and visit those make believe worlds during holidays and family gatherings. As a 17 year old I was frustrated at her insistence and didn’t really understand why she needed to visit those make believe places.
I wanted to help her understand the real world. I wanted to pull her out of make believe and help her grow up as I was. I would tell her about all the “adult” things she should be doing. I would tie her shoes, straighten her clothes, fix her hair and put on her makeup all the while telling her how I was helping her learn to do these things. It was not until sometime later, after I had children, that I realized I was not helping her at all.
In my zeal to make her act my age I was adding stress to her day. By doing all those daily activities for her I was pushing her out of the way and taking over. She didn’t need me to do that. I was not helping her at all. I was hurting her by adding extra frustration to her that she did not need. She knows how to tie her shoes and brush her hair. She needed me to stand back and wait for her. When I chatted with her as I did when I was a child as we brushed our hair together or got ready for outings I realized how very capable she is. What she needs is my support and love.
It certainly taught me that when I am about to reach out and help someone, I should pause and think about how I am really helping. Do they need it? Do they want it? Is the help really for them or for my impatience.