I'm the type to take on a lot of tasks, and no matter how overwhelmed I might feel I don't ask for help. My stubbornness is my fatal flaw, so I'm stressed and anxious on a pretty regular basis. Sure, I'd love help, but I know when my partner offers it to me, or my kids, he doesn't always mean he'd like to help. Actually, some things a dad really means when he asks "do you need help?" have nothing to do with being supportive and everything to do with finding and exploiting a short cut that'll allow them to bypass a substantial amount of necessary work. Thanks, fellas.
Now, before the #NotAllMen grab their torches and run in my direction, I know that not every father doesn't want to help when he asks. And I know there are more than a few mothers and parents who, like me, make it difficult for another parenting partner to help because we want things done a certain way and would rather accomplish things ourselves. Still, we can read the subtext to a few universal dad comments, gentlemen. We know what you really mean. For example, sometimes my partner will ask my son if he wants help building a new Lego set, but what he really means is, "Leave me alone while I build it." When my daughter is struggling with her incredibly complicated math homework and my partner asks, "Do you need help?" I know he's hoping, praying, and wishing she'll say she'll handle it all on her own. Because, math.
That's not to say dads aren't willing to help their kids, or that they don't want to support their partners, or they're incapable of being equal and active parenting partners. I'm sure there's some out there who mean what they say. But when it comes to some of the hidden meanings behind a father's offer to help, here's what that dad probably really means:
"Just Let Me Do It"
The first thing my partner means when he asks one of our kids if they need help is, essentially, "Let me do it for you." Essentially he wants to take over so things are actually accomplished in a timely manner and without a mess.
"Please Say No"
If a soccer game is on, and I'm sweating over dinner while the kids are simultaneously yelling for a snack, fighting over a toy, and/or my phone is ringing, I'm lucky if my partner blinks in my general direction. He may ask if any of us need assistance, but we already know that he really doesn't want to help and miss the game.
"I'll Probably Do It Differently Than You'd Prefer"
I'm a take-charge mom and partner, so when I'm cooking dinner or putting groceries away there's a specific order to my madness. It works for me.
I understand that my partner asking for help means he'll put the groceries in the wrong places and I'll end up re-doing it later, or he'll burn dinner and I'll have to call for take-out. A dad offering help might genuinely want to help, but his way is going to completely obliterate your way of doing things.
"I Can Tell You Want Me To Ask"
Most of the time, I do want to hear "Do you need help?" because it means my partner is paying attention to my daughter's tears over that homework, or my son's frustration in missing a key Lego piece while he's building. If I'm lingering nearby, but busy myself, hell yes I want him to help but I want him to help without asking. Like, just get in there, buddy. You don't need permission.
"I Want To Know You Need Me"
Our youngest just turned 6, and he's becoming more independent by the day. I get weepy when I know he needs help but would rather do things himself, and I know my partner feels the same. Maybe my partner still needs the reassurance that no matter how old the kids get, they'll still be his babies.
"You're Doing It Wrong"
Sometimes I can tell my partner's tone towards our kids indicates that they're doing something wrong and he is losing his patience. Instead of demoralizing them by pointing out their mistakes, he asks if they need help, hoping they'll let him step in and fix everything.
"I May Not Listen To Your Answer"
Maybe it's just my partner, but a dad who asks if you need help then walks away, never really waiting around to hear your answer, probably doesn't really want to help in the first place. But at least he offered, right?
"Apparently I Can't Look Around The Room And Figure It Out For Myself"
I mean, if you are noticing the struggle enough to ask for help, you might as well just insert yourself into the situation and without me needing to tell you what to do, where to go, and how you can be of assistance. Just, like, help. All on your own. You can do it.
"I Probably Should've Asked Sooner"
Yes, you should've. But you didn't.
"Just Tell Me What To Do"
Gentlemen. No. Think for yourselves. We believe in you.
"Do You Need Help?"
I'm giving the benefit of the doubt here, because there have been many times when my partner offered to help me or the kids with no underlying context, tone, or hidden message.
So when your partner asks how they can help, they may genuinely want to make your life easier. Isn't that part of being a partner?
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