Growing up, my father always used to tell me, if you help someone make sure they are also trying to help themself.
He said it’s a whole lot easier to reach out and take the hand of someone who is already reaching up and trying to stand up, rather than someone who is lying prone on the ground. The latter you would have to pick up and carry on your back which would then become a burden.
As many times as he said it, I didn’t really hear it until my late twenties.
In my early twenties, I wound up putting myself in a few situations where I was “rescuing” people. At one point, a friend had introduced me to his cousin. I was probably around 22 at the time. The cousin had a 1-year-old daughter and was living with her mother and brothers at the time. Apparently, the cousin’s father was in prison the majority of her life and had assaulted her when she was younger. Her mother blamed her for the assaulted and as a result, the mother favored her sons and had a very volatile relationship with the daughter.
I was pretty sheltered during my youth and this was one of the first times I had been exposed to the harsh realities some face. I felt bad for her situation and wished I could help in some way.
In the following months, the cousin stayed in communication with me and her situation continued to worsen at home. During one of our conversations, she asked if she could stay with me at my place.
After thinking about it, I agreed and said she could stay for 4 months under the condition she got a job and helped out with the expenses. She agreed to this and we moved her stuff into my extra bedroom.
One month passed.
The cousin hadn’t put in any job applications and my grocery bill was higher than normal. I asked her what was up with the job search and she asked if she could just clean the house in exchange for her rent. She said she didn’t want to put her daughter in daycare because her daughter was missing a part of her thumb from birth and she didn’t want her to get bullied.
As bad as I felt for all of her plight I had to stay firm on what I originally said. If I didn’t, her plight would become mine; in a way it already had. I couldn’t afford to take care of another adult and their child.
She wasn’t happy with my reply and a couple of weeks later, she packed her things and left angrily.
Someone told me a year later she had gotten her own place and figured out the childcare situation.
As harrowing as her past was, she was looking for me to give her a handout and not a hand up. She rightfully wanted to escape her situation. She was young and she may have even had good intentions. The problem was, she was expecting me to carry the weight of her burdens instead of just giving her an extra boost up.
That was a hard “no” for me in the end but it was the right one.