Our society puts a lot of pressure on mothers. We are supposed to work, keep our family well-fed with healthy, inexpensive, made-from-scratch meals. We are expected to balance the budget, be on top of homework and sign the children up for meaningful activities. Then we’re supposed to get them to those activities 5 days a week.
Moms are also told to find time to exercise and take care of themselves. A quick glance at social media is enough to make any of us feel deficient in so many ways: why does every other family go on great vacations? Why don’t we have the money? How does every other family whip up those picture-perfect meals scattered across my news feeds? It can be isolating, and it can give you the feeling that you should be doing more -- handling more -- on your own, for your family.
In 2003, a crisis hit our family. My husband was arrested under painful circumstances, leaving me and my sons startled and suddenly on our own. I had quit my job as an attorney the year prior, looking for a career change. Now I had a low-wage job with sons who were 8 and 11, the three of us dealing with news cameras on our front lawn.
Making our situation even more dire, three months after my husband’s arrest I landed in the hospital and came out with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Over the course of the few days that I was in the hospital, I realized that I was going to need help when I got out.
I was used to doing everything on my own, or as a part of the team my husband and I had formed as parents. But now I needed help getting my kids to their activities, getting meals on the table, and figuring out how to function as a single parent while managing a new medical condition.
I was fortunate that many people offered to help us. At first I was embarrassed. It can be difficult and humbling to have to accept help, and yet our situation was so dire that I really had no choice.
My friends and neighbors were amazing, we had many people doing things for us – food, grocery cards, rides to my kids’ activities and lots of visitors when I was in the hospital. In my book So Many Angels I write about the angels who helped us, strangers and friends.
Along the way I learned that accepting and even asking for help is a skill -- one you should feel comfortable exercising no matter the circumstances. Here are a few tips that I picked up that made accepting help much easier:
Meditate on your reason for needing help. For me, it was so that my sons did not have to suffer more than they already were suffering given our changing circumstances. I wanted them to continue to have full and fun lives, no matter the cost to my pride or sense of being the “best mom”. It became clear: to be the best mom to my sons now, to give them the best life, I needed to invite others in. So I did, and remembering my reason made it much easier for me to open our lives up to the help others could offer.
Don’t ignore your feelings of discomfort...but don’t take them too hard, either. Take note of when you are feeling “yicky”; don’t just shove it down. Sometimes discomfort comes from your old feelings about doing it all yourself, and other times it might be because you and your supports are out of sync. If you ask someone to do something and they seem reluctant, that’s okay. People have busy lives and stress piles up. Don’t feel anything other than simply acknowledging that they are busy and you are in a unique circumstance. Bookmark the thought and move on to the next potential helper. Just remember who seems too taxed, and skip them next time in the helper rotation.
...And follow the feelings of bliss (yes, even when you need help there is bliss!). There were some friends who were easy to be with and I found myself seeking them out for favors more than others. My friend Maria let us feel her warmth and her house became a frequent destination because we felt safe there. She was my first call on many occasions because her message to me was, “You got this” or “We got this”. It was her belief in me that made her one of my favorite people to call on. I leaned on her heavily and she was always there.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help on difficult or very personal tasks. Once you have your own little team of “Marias”, or people you feel comfortable confiding in and truly sharing your burdens with, don’t be afraid to ask them for help even on personal stuff. I asked Maria to clean out my husband’s clothes right after the arrest. Maria orchestrated a very rapid emptying of his side of our closet. The pain this prevented me from experiencing was immense. Maria knew that, and was happy to share in protecting me from it. She is an angel, and hopefully you have angels in your friend circle who will hold you up when you need it.
And remember to count the miracles as they happen. One day a teenager we knew called and asked if he could come over with water balloons to spend time with my kids for the afternoon. This was just days after the arrest and it was such a gift to hear my kids laughing while they ran around our backyard. Another friend kept cooking and bringing food – things that my kids liked to eat! I was so overwhelmed with their generosity that it became the subject of my new book, where I chronicle all of the amazing individuals who stepped up to the plate for me and my sons when I simply didn’t have the strength. Never let a contribution go unnoticed.
You don’t have to be going through a major life change or experiencing a dire illness to need help. Since I’ve become an expert at accepting the help of others, I’ve learned that sometimes a helping hand comes in handy even on a regular Tuesday when you just have too much to do.
The bottom line is: Give as good as you get; we need each other. No one can do this thing called life alone.