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The A to Z's of Teenagers: H Is for Help

Photograph by Getty Images

OK, let’s get something straight: Help is very different from advice. Advice is when, in our infinite mom-wisdom, we offer suggestions and recommendations that our headstrong and generally attitudinal teens mistakenly view as lectures or less-than-useless blather from a lame and clueless someone who understands nothing, has no idea what I’m going through and, anyway, is old enough to be my mother.

Help, on the other hand, is the offer of assistance (based on infinite mom-wisdom) that will improve a situation that we know (based on infinite mom-wisdom) needs improvement. Help is mistakenly seen as interference and is forcefully rejected unless it has to do with helping to pay for something.

But help is what we want to give. It’s why we’re here. It’s what we’ve always done: helping our kids learn to walk and talk and feed themselves, to read a book, throw a ball, pet a cat, ride a bike. We were so useful! Their little arms reached up to us as they asked for, pleaded for and gratefully accepted our help. Remember those days?

RELATED: The A to Z's of Teenagers: A Is for Advice

Fast-forward 14, 15, 16, 17 years.

When was the last time you offered to help your teen? When was the last time she accepted? Right.

I hate being rejected. I’m funny that way. But I really, really hate being rejected when my motives are pure, the offer of help comes from a deep well of experience and I know—I know—that this little bit of non-helicopter mom assistance I am offering is, well, truly helpful. I am not talking about robbing my daughter of her independence. I’m not talking about taking over. Just help.

Like when Lizzie was writing a résumé for a summer job. I’ve written a zillion résumés in my time and, hello, I know it might actually matter to a future employer that you spell the name of that business correctly. My (I swear, nonjudgmental) offer of editorial assistance? Rejected.

Without my help, she was learning how to semi-politely reject, um, my help.

Like when Lizzie was studying for a final in a challenging class. I’ve taken finals in challenging classes! During my 23 years of schooling—yes, 23—if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s how to study. I’ve got systems. My systems have systems. Rejected.

Like when Lizzie couldn’t find clean clothes to wear or her homework or the library book she needed to return or the mascara she bought the day before because her room looked like Katrina-plus 1, and I thought: A few hooks. A basket. A basket! I ran downstairs to find a catalog in which I had, for my own purposes, tabbed over a page featuring sets of lovely woven baskets. (I found the catalog easily because it was in a basket of catalogs.) I ran back upstairs and showed her the page, not even saying: These baskets will help you organize your room, which really needs organizing. She knew what I was offering: Help.

RELATED: The A to Z's of Teenagers: D Is for Drama

“I’m late for class,” she said, grabbing a sweatshirt that was damp from spending countless nights under a knee-high pile of wet towels. “Thanks anyway.” I knew she didn’t actually mean thanks. I knew I was being rejected. But I was inordinately pleased. Without my help, she was learning how to semi-politely reject, um, my help.

And now, a word from the teenage daughter:

This is where you would be reading Lizzie’s take on H Is for Help. If she had written it. Which she hasn’t. Do I really need to tell you that I offered my HELP, my kind, writerly, oh-so-patient (OK, increasingly less patient) editorial help? And was rejected.

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