Help is a Dirty Word

Hope has been my daughter for going on 3 years. It’s amazing how time flies.

This summer, we have spent quite a bit of time working on attachment and academic help. I’ve realized that Hope really has blossomed in some ways this summer.

We have some pretty amazing talks these days. She is really opening up. She has been pretty compliant when it comes to going to tutoring. Her compliance in doing chores has improved a lot as well.

Recently, she dropped something on me that really stunned me into silence though.

We were sitting in the car talking. It was kind of heated. I was trying to understand why asking for help was so difficult for her. Why did she also always refuse help? Didn’t she realize I was killing myself trying to help her be successful, to be her personal best, not for me, but for her. Why on earth was it difficult to just say yes sometimes. Why was it hard to just say, “Hey mom, can you help me?”

We’ve had this conversation before.

We’ve had this conversation several times. Her response is always the same: nothing, silence.

The affect was flat; the emotional walls went up and I would eventually just drop it.

Until one day recently, she responded to my inquiry and I was silenced by the disclosure.

In a nutshell, Hope had been in the foster care system so long and been through so many families that even after two years in a forever home, she loathed even having conversations about needing to be helped and being helped. In Hope’s experience so many people in her life have wanted to help her and their “help” resulted in:

  • Experiencing emergency removals and placements.
  • Portraying her parents as horrible people.
  • Long term foster care.
  • Moving her stuff in trash bags to a new foster home that would be in a better position to “help her.”
  • Being made to take Tae Kwan Do because it would “help” her manage her anger even though she hated it.
  • Being medicated.
  • Being told her math skills were bad enough to qualify for a special math program that made her feel dumb.
  • Having to go to daily private tutoring all this summer.

And the list goes on.

Asking for, receiving or being forced to accept help has never made her feel good about herself, never. Why would she ask for help when her self-esteem was already so low? Why would she trust anyone, even me, to help her and that it actually would result in a better quality of life?

In her mind, help was and is associated with the breakup of her family, being shuttled around and not wanted, having no voice in her life and having her low self-esteem validated.

Help is a dirty trigger word for her.

That was a serious lesson for me to learn. It never, ever occurred to me that she would have such negative association with the concept of help. It silenced me. It broke my heart and just underscored how deeply hurt my daughter has been over her life. Efforts to keep her safe and to rebuild her life remain threatening to her.

We didn’t talk about it for a few days. I mean, what could I say to her at first?

We eventually sat in the car one evening and had a good talk about what help is supposed to be; what the potential for “help” could be in her life and how “help” is designed to make Hope the best Hope she can be—not for me, but for her.

I think this is turning point for us.

I am hopeful that her disclosure means she is feeling safer and willing to work with me to take advantage of all the opportunities in her life [note the word I DIDN’T use!].

So, for now, help is a dirty word in our house. It will come back into our vocabulary at some point, but using different language with Hope is an easy fix if it means increasing the likelihood that she will accept the things she needs to improve her life.



About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted my now adult daughter in 2014, and this blog chronicles my journey. Feel free to contact me at, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©, 2013-2022. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

7 responses to “Help is a Dirty Word

  • Her

    Words are funny things. One person’s “help” is another person’s loss of what little control they have. I’m glad that she shared that with you. I’m glad that you could see her perspective.

    Signed, Aged out of foster care

  • Beth H

    Thank you for writing this. I hadn’t considered it, but I now wonder if my daughter has the same feelings about that word. She is resisting the “help” we are trying to give her through her IEP and follow up testing. She recently acknowledged that a reason she resists all the testing, accommodations, and assistance is that they make her feel stupid– I already knew she felt this way, but she was unable to acknowledge it until now. And this post is making me wonder if the connotations of “help” (loss) add a whole extra layer of resentment.

  • Belladonna Took

    Wow! What a beautiful breakthrough! And … I’m so glad you’ve shared it. I’ll be re-evaluating a few of my personal relationships with this in mind. For me it’s so normal to ask for and offer help … I’ve never been able to understand why some people don’t see it simply as being part of a community or family. Thank you for sharing an important insight.

  • Svetlana Poliakova

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As you are aware about the source of the problem it would be better not to pay attention to the word itself doing something like taboo, but instead to fill it with new sense by incremental pushes.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      It really isn’t about making it a taboo word at all–my titles tend to be tongue in cheek. That said, with my daughter this is a vocab boundary. In an effort to engender trust I’ve got to reframe the approach and use different vocabulary for now. I have to respect the boundary; doing so doesn’t mean not helping but it certainly does mean not using a clear trigger word for now. Incremental improvement is always the goal, but she had trusted me enough and she’s old enough to say that the word is a trigger, I gotta tow the line. She and I both know that I’m going to do all the things I’ve been doing: the word will come into play, but it’s important to her to get to get a break from it. Ignoring that makes me no different than folks who ignored her voice before.

  • TheChroniclesofaNonBellyMama

    one day at a time, right? Every day breaking walls! Get that ish ABM! This is SO SO SO HUGE!

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