Do it yourself! (but you don’t have to)

When I was growing up there was a certain independence that was encouraged by my mother, along the lines of: “You’ve got two arms, two legs, and a heartbeat – do it yourself!”

And that’s exactly what we did – we were pretty capable as kids, but then it got to the point where I simply couldn’t comprehend other people’s inability to do something. Whether it was incomprehension that my peers had their uniforms ironed for them or frustration that a forgotten assignment led to parents going into melt-down mode and rushing it to school via a taxi (my mother’s response would have been “And? I’m at work. You’ll have to hand it in tomorrow.”), I simply didn’t get this lack of independence – or, more accurately, lack of ability to think and act for oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, I still ask my father for advice and go to my mother when I need help with something, but I’m also fairly confident that, if left alone, I’d figure it out eventually. In the interest of full disclosure: I’m twenty something and I live at home – this is reflective of my financial status rather than my aptitude for life skills. I am easily frustrated by people who are (in my opinion) inefficient. Last night my mother gave me some pretty special advice as I lamented the loss of competence in … well, lots of things. “Stef,” she looked at me with a sigh, “you have to be more forgiving of those who are not as clever or capable as you.

Before you start singing my mother’s praises for being such a patient person, here’s a typical morning conversation between us:

Me: Would you like a coffee?

Mum: Sure, I’ll make it.

Me: Well, I’m about to make mine so I can make yours, too.

Mum: I’ll make them.

Me: I want to make mine, though.

Mum: I’ll make mine after.

We like to do it ourselves, in our family. We like to nudge (or push) others out of the way and just get it done – it means it’s done straight away and it means it’s done the “right” way. This also means that some people end up falling head first over a cliff when we barge in to “fix” things. Perfectionism is genetic, no matter what anyone says. I’ve got three generations for proof! Want to see me try to cook with my mother and sister in the kitchen? I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth” but in our case it’s “too many women in the kitchen will kill each other with any object, blunt or sharp, that they can find”.

I have great admiration for my mother. She can run a successful business and mow the lawn and pay the rent and produce lemon delicious pudding of epic awesomeness (except that one time … ) and dress with a great sense of style AND fix the damn dishwasher when the door won’t close … this is a woman who, in my humble and completely un-bias opinion, can do everything. Unfortunately, in raising me to be pretty self-sufficient and capable, my mother also encouraged a fierce independence and sense of not needing anyone else.

This has had some interesting effects on my relationships – as it turns out, men can be a little intimidated by a woman who doesn’t need them to take the rubbish out, tighten the screws on the cupboard door, or change a light bulb. I mean, it’s great to have someone else do these things, but if the rubbish sits by the door for an hour and the cupboard doesn’t get repaired for a month and the light bulb isn’t replaced within the week, you may as well do it yourself. Yes, being a strong and capable woman has also led to impatience and – let’s face it – a demonic control freak who turns red at the sight of things being done “incorrectly”. The Hulk of control and perfectionism resides within me and bursts forth to criticise and pulverise incompetence and inability.

While drafting this post my mother and I had a conversation which led to me showing her a couple of paragraphs. She looked at me and, with her usual fierce determination, said: “Sometimes you have to let go. You have to let others help you.”

I have to recognise that even though I can do it straight away and all by myself, other people can do it too – and if they don’t get it right, criticising them won’t help. It’s a lesson for all of us, isn’t it? Let go. Ask for help. Teach them. Help them. And then you’ll never have to do it again, yet you can still trust it will get done – and get done well. Sometimes we like to lock “secrets of the trade” away and, in insisting on doing things ourselves, we neglect to educate others, to demonstrate how something might be done – and, gods forbid, allow them to find a more efficient way to do it in future. Fresh eyes can see things we don’t, and new ideas might even help us more than our habits do.

As for the coffee … Neither of us have tried to show the other how we prefer our coffee. Imagine if we did … I could call out “Coffee?” and Mum would have a fresh cup in a few minutes. Or the reverse might even happen! Fortunately, I’ve almost perfected the way Mum likes her tea.

Let go. Ask for help. Accept it graciously and … just breathe.

Oh … I should mention that Mum blames the failed lemon delicious pudding on me, but I’ll write about accountability and taking responsibility some other time. I never make my lemon delicious in a bain-marie and it normally turns out just fine!

No one died in the making of the pudding, incidentally, except for part of my mother’s culinary pride.

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3 comments on “Do it yourself! (but you don’t have to)

  1. Pingback: Why I don’t iron (and other confessions of laziness) « dodging commas

  2. I’ve read this thrice. Thrice! That’s how much I like it. My mother & I have a different type of relationship. She’s a highly capable woman herself except when it comes to speaking out on important family stuff. That’s where I come in, haha (talk to your sister for me, tell your brother…).
    Anyway, this is truly wonderful & honest writing, Stef. 🙂

    • Mother-Daughter relationships are so fascinating – and I love watching my mother and my grandmother (and trying hard not to see myself and my mother reflected in it)!

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