What is the difference between helping and mothering when interacting with mentally competent adults?
Mothering is either giving unsolicited advice or insulting their intelligence by stating the obvious. Having spent years raising children and telling them what to do or not do, I have found it takes a lot of prayer and conscious effort to break that habit once they’re adults. I must remember that if adults want my advice, they’ll ask for it. If they don’t ask, I should keep quiet, or at least ask if they want my in-put before I give it. Sometimes, I’m also guilty of making totally unnecessary (and potentially insulting) statements or questions like, “Will you be taking the sparklers outside?” (No responsible adult would light a sparkler in the house.)
Helping is doing something the other adult appreciates.
With my husband, I have found it helpful to ask specific questions. For example, we have been told that on the days he gets infusions, he should drink lots of water so that the veins are easier to get into. When Tom told me that it took them three tries to get the IV in (he hadn’t been drinking enough water) I later asked, “Would you like me to remind you to drink water on infusion days, or do you prefer to handle that yourself?” (I was giving him a choice, rather than telling him what to do.) He said he would like the reminders.
So, in summary, if we want our statements and questions to be appreciated by the other person, we need to avoid coming across as telling them what to do. Treat them like the competent adults that they are. And if they make mistakes, as we all do, trust that they’ll learn from them.