Why don’t we ask for help?
Raise your hand if you are good at asking for help when you need it. Through our virtual connection, I envision a room full of crickets chirping as the vast majority of us sit on our hands and look around to catch a glimpse of the parents who have perfected the art of accepting help. A few hands go up in the air, but most of us can’t claim to be good at this vital skill.
And, we tell our friends to ask us for help when they need it.
We philosophically believe that it takes a village to raise a child. We extol the virtues of said village and work hard (or at least wish hard) to have a village around us.
We definitely need help.
We definitely want help.
But, many of us are definitely are not good at asking for help. Oh sure, we can pay for help. We can hire a babysitter from time to time. We can schedule an hour here or there in a preplanned, everything is arranged and pulled together, dinner-is-ready-in-the-crock-pot kind of help. But I am talking about the middle of the night, emergency, take-my-kids-right-now-because-I’m-gonna-lose-it kind of help. The kind of asking for help that finds us at our worst and leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed. That’s the kind of help we just don’t like to ask for. It’s the hardest kind of help to admit to needing. But think about it, this is exactly the kind of help that we want our kids to be able to embrace.
A three-year-old runs around the house, his nerves are raw and he laughs wildly, on the brink of a meltdown. He crashes into a wall and dissolves into a puddle of tears, howls and throws a toy across the room. A mom says, “You were really feeling out of control. I wonder if you could have asked for help?”
A teenage boy stomps through the house. He is failing math and his girlfriend broke up with him and his blood is boiling and his emotions are raging. He slams his bedroom door and blares the music. His father says, “Why won’t you just ask us for help? We are here!”
A mother is at the end of her rope. Her three-year-old is sick and she hasn’t had a full night of sleep in what seems like years and her teenager is slamming doors and the house is a mess and the bills need to be paid and her head hurts and dinner needs to be fixed. Her nerves are frayed and the sound of her child’s voice fills her with fear. Her friend says, “Let me know if I can help.”
Life, from childhood on, is wrought with big emotions that leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed. Last week I wrote about modeling traits you want your child to learn, rather than just preaching them. And this week I have been thinking a lot about how this applies to the concept of asking for help. If we want our children to be capable of seeking out help and support, then we have to be able to do the same. For most of us, for some reason, this is really hard. But, why?
I think it is time to explore and challenge some of the myths about asking for help:
1) It admits defeat: If I am a good mother, I will always have it under control. If I ask for help, people will know I am not a good mother.
The truth: That’s just silly. Everyone needs help. Asking for it makes us better parents. And that isn’t just a cliché. It’s real. We can all parent better when we have deep resources (both internally and externally.) Sleep deprived, stressed out, emotionally raw parents have more difficulty making good parenting decisions. It just is. So asking for help is actually part of being a good parent.
2) We will inconvenience others: My friends and family are busy. They don’t have time to help. I don’t want to bother them.
The truth: Being there for each other is what relationships are about. Relationships that are only based on convenience aren’t very deep. Most people feel good about helping others. It makes us feel good when our loved ones ask us for help. We feel connected and useful and engaged. It helps build trust and intimacy. It actually helps relationships flourish.
The truth: Yep. They will know we struggle. And they will like us more for it. Why? Because they need help, too, and we all want to know that everyone is in the same boat as us. If we ask for help, they can ask for help, and then we are truly all in it together.
4) I will be indebted: Self-sufficiency is key. Don’t depend on anyone. Pay for everything. Quid Pro Quo.
The truth: If we are all in this together, then it will all come out in the wash. I will help you when you need it, you will help me when I need it. Having these types of relationships allows flexibility and trust that both partners can ask for what they need, when they need it. If we give and take support from our relationships, then the concept of accruing debt does not apply.
5) They will say no: And that would be horrible.
The truth: Maybe. But that’s okay. Sometimes they will say no. It’s not so scary or horrible. It’s just no.
There are more, of course. Deep-seated beliefs that stop us from picking up the phone and asking someone for help. But the truth is, in order to show our kids that asking for help is an important part of life, we have to be willing to challenge our own beliefs and practice what we preach. When we do, we show them that asking for help not only gets us through the big emotions with integrity, but also allows us to celebrate the joys more fully through deeper connection with our loved ones. We have to ask for help, when we need it, from the very people that we tell to ask US for help when THEY need it!
Ask your child for help. Ask a friend for help. Ask your partner for help. Push through the resistance and ask for help. See what happens. It might just change your day. It might just change your life.