Going Against The Ideal Of American Independence: Teaching Your Kids To Depend On Others

Photo by pixabay.com

Photo by pixabay.com

Ages ago, communities of people depended on each other to live. Tribes, cities, farmers, etc., depended upon a network of other people to eat, construct shelter, nurture young, protect themselves against harm and band together for emotional support.

Somewhere, probably after the industrial revolution, western society began to lose touch with having these tight-knit bonds of dependency.

Of course, neighborhoods in cities banded together, people identify with their religion or civic cause, and having someone over for a barbecue is still a common practice.

But it would appear that we often choose to isolate ourselves from one another, particularly in times of need.

I get that. I don't want to be a "burden" to anyone in any way. Doing so makes me feel troublesome and incompetent.

And there has always been the idea in America that one should depend only on oneself. In fact, an article I read online informs students from other countries that want to study in the U.S. the following as a Major American Value: "Individuality: U.S. Americans are encouraged at an early age to be independent and to develop their own goals in life. They are encouraged to not depend (too much) on others including their friends, teachers and parents. They are rewarded when they try harder to reach their goals." (International Student Guide To The U.S.A.).

A quote from a New York Times article titled "Why Is Asking For Help So Difficult?" sums it up: “There is a tendency to act as if it’s a deficiency,” said Garret Keizer, author of “Help: The Original Human Dilemma” (HarperCollins, 2004). “That is exacerbated if a business environment is highly competitive within as well as without. There is an understandable fear that if you let your guard down, you’ll get hurt, or that this information you don’t know how to do will be used against you.” For the full article, click here.

And yet, much good comes from learning to ask for help.

A few weeks back, I published a blog post about my daughter trying to save for an expensive trip to perform with other Illinois high school band members in Europe next summer.

To afford the trip, we have had to do several fundraisers. We started with garage sales – we ended up doing five of them, to be exact.

After the first, neighbors said that if they'd known we were doing it, they might have brought down some items to sell with us. So, I worked with my daughter to create a flyer and she brought it around to all the neighbors. Ultimately, they decided not to sell their own items, but told us they had items they'd give us to sell to keep the profit and if they didn't, we could donate them.

We also did a car wash, and it was so, so hard for my daughter to ask her friends to help. They were not going on the trip. They were doing it from the goodness of their hearts. That's a lot to ask of someone.

Still they came, and worked hard. Some of the kids were able to use the hours for school or church service hours, but several did not receive that benefit. All did it because they are good kids and wanted to help. And, they had fun. Thank God. I was so hoping for that!

Through the garage sales, the car wash and her gofundme page, our child is realizing the goodness in people. As mentioned, she's learning to push herself past the very uncomfortable feeling of asking someone else for help. She's meeting people and witnessing their stories.

Take the saucy elderly woman who bought a devil costume from us at one of the garage sales. She who with a wink that she'd be "the hit of our retirement center Halloween party in this!" Or the wealthy woman who was born and raised in France who bought much of the furniture we were selling and told Lauren all about her home country. Or the young single mom who was so happy to get great clothes for daughter and cheerleading shoes at a great price. So many people had stories to tell, and it was so much fun to meet them and know that our possessions went somewhere where they will be treasured.

The car wash meant my daughter really putting herself out there holding signs on a busy street to draw people in. It was hard at first – she felt silly. Before long though, she and her friends were happily shouting "Car Wash!" and talking with passersby as they waited for the light to change. Some came in. Others politely declined. Some gave a little money even if they didn't come in. Some people ignored them – so you forget about that and move on.

For those that came in, she got to learn something about them, or hear about the vehicles they bought in. We got a limo driver, a Tesla driver (this man gave $40!) and a man with a 1969 convertible Cutlass. Another man whose children went to a "rival" high school but whose children were all graduated got his van washed, because, he said, "You always give back to musicians." It was fun to chat about both school's music program.

A young mom was happy to have her car washed because she had two little ones in car seats and it made her day easier.

Another woman said "I'm so sorry. I don't carry cash!" And proceeded to go through her wallet and car and find all the spare change she could, which she happily passed along.

A local pizza place had allowed us to put a flier in the businesses' window, and sent over free pizzas for the kids. The owner of the car wash let us collect all the money without charging us a percentage.

It is the spirit of people like this that we want Lauren to see and become like as an adult.

She will now know what it's like to ask for help, and understand another's perspective better when they come to her.

She will (I hope) learn to pay it forward. One of her band directors financed music trips by asking for support from his community while in high school, and now as a successful adult he has established a scholarship for students.

My daughter should also be grateful to her brother, who brought along two friends who worked the car wash, too. He is learning to be there for his sister, and she is learning (I hope) to make her brother a priority. (Actually, I know she does. After getting her driver's license, the first thing she wanted to do was drive somewhere and take her brother out for ice cream).

If we won millions tomorrow, it would surely be easy to pay for this European trip. But the lessons she's learning - to humbly ask for assistance from her community of friends (people need each other - it's OK to ask for help, and then freely give it), to value people going out of the way for her, to work in camaraderie with others, to see and hear patron's stories, to see business people building goodwill by offering their products and services is a life lesson she wouldn't be learning if we simply were able to write a check.

My prayers continue as we are on this journey that is a success. I'm humbly asking God for that, as well as the safety, health and well-being for all who travel next summer.


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