Home > Blogging, Communication, Family, Learning, Love, Relationships, Silly > I can do it myself! (But should I?)

I can do it myself! (But should I?)

We met up at the train station with only a couple of minutes to spare.

“Could I get my sandals?” I asked my husband as I flopped down onto a bench. I slipped off the shoes I’d been wearing all day. “These ones are killing me.”

My husband, Anthony, handed over my sandals and asked if I’d like help buckling them. “No. I can do it myself,” I replied. I buckled the left one easily, but the right was a struggle due to my growing belly.

Anthony offered a hand once more. Once more, I brushed him off, brusquely emphasizing that I was more than capable of doing it myself. He sighed. We’ve had this conversation hundreds of times before, in every imaginable circumstance. The only difference here was that this one began our honeymoon weekend.

Honeymoon togetherness: Deb doin' it right!

Honeymoon togetherness: Deb doin’ it right!

In between bouts of train- and pregnancy-induced dozing, I thought back to that moment. How many times has Anthony tried lending a hand the last few years, knowing it’d more likely than not be (figuratively) slapped away? How many times have I waved him off when he tried to ease my load, not because he thinks me incapable but because he knows two people can often do a thing easier than one?

I don’t know the exact number, but it’s a lot. A really, really lot.

I thought about my first time meeting my youngest sister’s then-future husband some years earlier. He’d joined my sister and a handful of others to help me move apartments. Witnessing me awkwardly lugging a large TV by myself, he offered to help me carry it. I didn’t even bother considering his offer before giving my standard reply. “I can do it myself!”

That made him smile. “You sound just like Madeline,” he told me.

“How’s that?” Groan. Grimace. Grunt.

“She’s always telling me, ‘I can do it myself.’ Well, of course she can. The point is, a princess shouldn’t have to.”

I’m no princess and never had much interest in being one, but his words worked a little bit of a magic on my big sister heart, anyway.

It's possible my youngest sister feels differently on the princess matter. :)

Anyway, it’s possible Madeline feels differently on the princess matter 🙂

I set down the TV and accepted his offer. Together we hauled it the rest of the way to the car much, much more easily and quickly than if I’d carried it solo.

Thanks to his words, I was able to see this particular stubbornness wasn’t a peculiar character trait isolated to me. It reflected my mom’s insistence each of her daughters be self reliant, depending on no man to support them or achieve their smaller goals. Her insistence was borne of her heartbreaking experiences with my dad: Much as you might hope, there’s no guarantee anyone else will do as well for you as you could do for yourself. Or at all.

It was only when my sisters and I were much older that my mom realized she might have gone overboard emphasizing self reliance above all else. “Girls, you know how I told you you could be anything you wanted? What I meant was, think of what you want to be, and marry a man who does that!”

Nice try, Mom, but the foundation you’d lain had already been developed into fully built castles.

An evening or two into our honeymoon, Anthony and I wandered into a clothing store shortly before closing time. My feet were so swollen the last month of my first pregnancy that I’d only been able to wear flip-flops , so Anthony suggested I should probably have back-ups on hand.

I tugged off one sandal to try on another. The new one slid on easily. Unfortunately, the one I’d worn into the store wasn’t quite as cooperative.

I struggled with it for a moment before telling myself, practice makes better.

“Hon, could I get a hand with this?”

Anthony was happy to help.

Sometimes I get frustrated when it feels like I’m doing everything by myself.

Other times, I can see with excruciating clarity how I’ve ended up doing certain things all by myself. The reasons sound like:

  • No, no. That’s not it. You’re not doing it right.
  • Can’t you do something else instead?
  • I don’t need your help.
  • I can do it myself.
  • I’ve got this.

From a rare bout of willingness to look this shortcoming head on, I thought about writing a tongue-in-cheek list-based blog:

  • “8 Ways To Help Your Husband Feel Useful”
  • “12 Little Things You Can Let Your Husband Do While You Do Everything Important”
  • “48 Butt-Kicking Affirmations for the Woman Who Really Can Do It All Without Anyone’s Help, Ever”
  • “96 Ways To Say ‘Hell, No,’ But Nicely Enough to Stay Married”

There were a bunch of problems with this approach, the biggest of all being that I don’t really have any solutions to my saying-yes-to-help problem right now. If I did have any solutions, they’d be pretty specific to my own marriage. But, again, that’s hypothetical, because:

No solutions = zero-item lists = not actually lists

Also, even though I know numbered lists are like-whoa times more likely to go viral than their boring text driven counterparts, I don’t really remember any of them after I’ve navigated away.

share chart kwm.jpg

Better to write what I know. Which, right now, is that (a) I have a hard time accepting help, even after years of practice, but that (b) I’m not throwing in the towel yet and saying, “I am what I am. Live with it!”

That’s no kind of partnership.

For now, I’m going to start with a single intention: not necessarily to say “yes” to my husband’s every offer, but at least to consider each one individually instead of shooting it down immediately with an instinctive, “I can do it myself!”

“Of course you can,” I can already hear Anthony saying. “But my wife shouldn’t have to.”

honeymoon shot

  1. March 3, 2014 at 6:58 am

    I love this! Such a great post and it’s something I struggle with, too! But, just because I can does’t mean I have to!

    • March 3, 2014 at 8:00 am

      I think about how good it feels to lend a hand, and how it builds a sense of community and togetherness. Knowing that, it’s amazing it’s still so difficult to translate that knowledge to action, accepting as well as giving!

  2. March 3, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Once again, I am reminded how similar we are. “I’m sorry, were you writing about you in this post? I got confused there for a second.” 😉

    • March 3, 2014 at 8:04 am


      I’d like to take this as an opportunity to say “thank you.” There’ve been a few times you lent a hand and made it easy to accept. I don’t know how you override the powerful I-can-do-it-myself drive, but the fact you do is much appreciated.

    • March 3, 2014 at 8:11 am

      Also, you should know Li’l D emphasized the importance of these reflections by saying “I can do it myself!” and “I have my own way!” a half-dozen times this morning. I’d like to set examples of autonomy and working together for him, because both will come in handy throughout his life!

      • March 3, 2014 at 8:20 am

        Oh dear, pantomime alert! Hehe.It has surfaced many times in the past six months or so the topic and importance of asking for help, that failing is not the problem, but rather failing to ask for help when you could have used it. This probably correlates to frustrations when schoolwork doesn’t magically make sense and come with ease as kids get older. Rather than suffering and wondering why they cannot do it on their own, asking for help saves so much energy/stress/time. Bonus: you get to interact with another person.

  3. March 3, 2014 at 7:24 am

    What a sweet hubby! Once again you articulated well what I was unable to find the right words to explain.

    • March 3, 2014 at 8:05 am

      He really, really is. When I started feeling grumpy about various things, I think about last pregnancy’s labor. When I was feeling like the pain would just keep going and that was all there was, he was able to take that and shift my focus on being with him. It’s an amazing thing to have in my life, and something I’d like to honor more by accepting more of without struggle or resistance.

  4. March 3, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Very wise post. Let him… I should have let him much more over the years.

    • March 3, 2014 at 8:07 am

      It’s good to see this from an angle of more time. It makes me feel a little less guilty when I think, “Five years and this is still where we’re at?” May we have another fifty together to look back on these times and think how far we’ve come!

      • March 3, 2014 at 8:45 am

        Yes, let him. Listen to the verbal and non-verbal queues that offer.

  5. March 3, 2014 at 8:03 am

    This kinda coincides with my thoughts lately. By not accepting help, we are holding the ones we love at arms length in some ways. Helping and being helped is part of the give and take in a loving relationship. Glad to know I’m not the only one struggling with this!

    • March 3, 2014 at 8:10 am

      By not accepting help, we are holding the ones we love at arms length in some ways.
      That is exactly it! There are often reasons for it, certainly, but those historical reasons can deprive us of present-day love offered without some previously experienced strings.

  6. March 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    I am told that ‘Do it self’ was my first sentence. Something I have maintained, not always sensibly, to this day. How nice to hear that someone else learns faster than I do.

    • March 6, 2014 at 5:37 am

      That middle sentence makes me giggle: “not always sensible.” Oh, but I relate! I’m hoping to make more sensible help-acceptance choices from here on out, but I expect it will be a long road. 😉

  7. G M Barlean
    March 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    I admire a woman who doesn’t use a man as a crutch, but also admire a wife realizing she is a partner, too.

    • March 6, 2014 at 5:38 am

      Beautifully put, and so succinctly. It’s challenging to make my actions reflect my understanding of what partnership is, but I’m game for a challenge. Even a long, uphill one like this!

  8. March 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I know what you mean, I have the same thing with my husband. Eventually I realized that he really feels better when I let him carry the heavy stuff–it makes him feel good. Plus I have plenty of hefting heavy crap around when he isn’t home to stay in shape, which would be my main worry.

    • March 6, 2014 at 5:42 am

      it makes him feel good.
      When I’m able to lend a hand, I love the sense of connection that springs from doing with others! I see Anthony gets the same rush when he’s able to help, and that’s something I’d like to offer more of.

      I used to hate accepting any help at all, but finding a core group of friends late in college helped me see that not all help was offered with ulterior motive. People relish opportunities to be helpful, active participants in their loved ones’ lives. It really is connecting. So now I need to keep striving to improve it in this particular arena, one where it’s perhaps most important of all!

  9. March 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I sometimes ask myself, Would I have offered to help if the situation were reversed? Turning the tables in my head allows me to see that someone isn’t offering because he thinks I’m weak or incapable but because it’s the kind thing to do.

    Also, I admire your willingness to examine a tendency you’ve stuck with for a long time. It’s hard to look closely at ourselves!

    • March 8, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      I like how you aoproach this. I’m going to give this a try!

      Also, I’ve had several opportunities to see my son respond to offers of help since posting this. Seeing his insistence on doing things by himself, even if that means doing them wrong, makes it all the more important to me to assess in a case by case basis . . . and thus be a better example for him.

  10. March 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Your husband(Anthony) is married to an intelligent person. By definition he is able to sort things out himself. I’m sure that Anthony will establish a system that works for him and he is big enough to take care of himself. Partnerships command honesty and living by other peoples standards, whilst a necessary compromise, only lasts until the chips are down at which point we revert to kind. Anthony would love you for yourself, hair and all, he must be in heaven understanding that when you need his help you mean it.B

    • March 8, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      He loves my independence, but I can definitely see why he would appreciate it being to a slightly lesser degree. The more I don’t end up doing all by myself, the more energy I have for non-essential stuff. It’s a win for all for me to ask/accept a little more often than I’m naturally inclined . . . which is nigh on never!

  11. March 3, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    I actually just wrote a post about this same thing last week. Sometimes I see needing help, or accepting it, actually (because I never NEED help, right?) as a blow to my ego. But I, too, am fortunate to have a partner who will never expect me to carry the weight alone. Of course he’ll also never do it like I can…

    • March 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Your conclusion made me laugh. I’ve been thinking about the doing-it-right bit a lot the last week. A is much more trusting of the rightness of how I’m doing something–even if different than how he would–than when tables are turned. I’d like to move closer to middle ground in this arena, too. 🙂

  12. March 3, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Ah, I both love and can relate to this. How many times have I asked for help and then, deeming the help to be insufficient, done the task myself while muttering under my breath? Oy, too many times.

    The graphics in the post cracked me up so hard, as well as the bit about life-changing lists going viral. Gold, just gold.

    • March 8, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Thank you! I had been feeling a little grumpy about the vitality of certain posts, which got me thinking: What usually dissipates grumpiness? Humor! It works almost every time. 😀

  13. katy
    March 4, 2014 at 11:39 am

    oh woman! I so relate right down to the not buckling my shoes due to my belly, even now! HA! you speak my language, but funnier and more insightful.

    • March 8, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      Oh, my friend, I think it would be hard to best you in either the funny or insightful departments! Love you.

  14. March 5, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    This was a great post! I grew up with a similar mindset, and find it hard to accept help.. and sometimes, even when I do want help, I still want things to be done the way I want rather than just accepting the other person’s way of doing things!

    • March 8, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      I think I am finally coming to the point where I would rather save a little time than have most things done my way. In principle. In practice, I think I have a way to go! :p

  15. March 6, 2014 at 4:55 am

    Thank you for this one. I love this, you and I and apparently your sister, we all have a similar problem. Please, I beg of you learn to say yes!

    Funny, I am writing along a similar bend in the road right now. My words though, they are hard on my heart.

    I love you for this one, it made me smile.

    • March 8, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      I am learning, though I wish I were learning a little faster! Actually, though, I am glad to have had the opportunity to look at it in this light. Perhaps seeing my own slowness will make me a little more gracious about others’? That is a heartening thought!

  16. March 13, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Ah yes…I kept joking with Kiefer about how one day he’d need to help me put my shoes on, but when that day came, I was determined to do it myself. I think the last week or two I finally gave in and let him help me.

    • March 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      It’s so heartening reading these comments and knowing I am not alone in this! Knowing this makes me feel better when I get The Look from Anthony.

      Seeing Li’l D emulate my “I can do it myself!” demeanor is helping me find a slightly more balanced approach, but I suspect my learning in this arena will be a lifetime. 😉

  17. 18mitzvot
    November 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    LOL.“12 Little Things You Can Let Your Husband Do While You Do Everything Important”
    Love it!

  1. March 17, 2014 at 11:50 am

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