“Doing for” versus “Being with”

In my accountability group last week we got into a discussion about caring for your aging parents. When I’m writing this I want to be clear that this was a group discussion and I wasn’t talking about my mother although some of it did relate to my father who struggled with dementia and alzheimers before his graduation into eternity. 

 There are several dilemmas for those of us in the sandwich generation. That is the generation that is still raising kids and caring for aging parents at the same time. One of the challenges is that neither the kids nor the parents really want advice or want you to “do for” them. This can be especially hard if you are one who gains a sense of meaning and purpose from doing for someone. Doing for is certainly a way to show love but sometimes there is a fine line between doing for and needing to be needed.

At the same time we might want to “do for” we also want to raise up our loved one’s sense of responsibility and self worth. We want to remove a sense of entitlement, deflection of ownership and resentment. Often if you let someone try and fail they will be a more motivated learner. If you do it for someone or hover over then if something goes wrong they will blame you for micro-managing or interfering and they won’t learn. The cycle of dependence is likely to repeat.

We agreed that “doing for” should be reserved for those times when they cannot do for themselves and/or they are asking for help. In situations other than those, the best you can do is pray and be available if help is needed. Standing available is sometimes demoralizing if you sense that there really is a need but you aren’t invited or wanted. Remind yourself that it is “not about me.” One must remind one’s self that love waits—and that is not just about sexuality.

Think with me for a moment and contrast “doing for” and “being with”. It is often hard to simply “be with” someone without “doing for” them. We must empathize without rescue. We practice the art of conversation. It is like tennis. There is serve and volley. You don’t need the last word and conversation doesn’t need to lead to advice. You can be in the moment and just enjoy being. You don’t have to offer to do or take on responsibility simply because you see the need. Often it is not the length of time that you were in the conversation but your body language and the unhurried manor that communicated you cared. I have to admit all of us said this part is hard for us as guys because we have a natural desire to fix things.

When you are “being with” you can talk about non-consequential things like the weather and the birds that visit the bird feeder. You can reflect on the past and hear the same stories over again listening with a smile. You can find something to laugh about and if the conversation becomes sensitive you can weep with those who weep without having to fix it or take away one’s feelings. Being with is about empathizing with the challenges and expressing faith in the person to navigate the future. It is about leading to faith without driving to a conclusion to end the conversation and run out the door to the next “important” thing.

We all agreed we want to be less and less about “doing for” and more and more about “being with.”