Please God do not try and do everything yourself. There is not a single ounce of shame in having someone else drive your kids to school, deliver your groceries, do your taxes, carpool your kids to events, clean your house, organize your closets, move your furniture, do your Target run, return your library books or WHATEVER you need done.
We came from villages. It is an odd custom we have in this country to raise and parent and get everything done within our tiny family unit. Where is the time to breathe? If we feel pressed for time it’s because we are doing all the things that entire villages used to do for and with each other.
Imagine if you had a whole tribe full of people who could hold your bag and your coffee and watch your baby while you went to the bathroom. Or who could take your kids on a walk while you took a nap. Or if you had to only make dinner once a week because every other night of the week a grandparent or neighbor or someone else made dinner for you and your family. Or, as in some indigenous tribes, if a close family member was in charge of disciplining your kids so you could just enjoy being with your children.
Asking for or accepting help is a sacred concept. And yes, it’s tough to ask for things that in a perfect world should be offered: like at a family gathering, asking for someone to hold your fussy baby so you can eat your dinner while everyone else is already eating dessert. The word “help” used to not have the intrinsic sense of self-lack we’ve ascribed to it. As in, if I need help I must be lacking in some way. I must not be as independent as I need to be. The truth is, you need help because you weren’t built to do it all. None of us were.
How many times do you imagine yourself as lazy for not wanting to devote every waking hour to other people? “Oh, I’m feeling lazy tonight so I didn’t make a healthy dinner and I let the kids watch TV.” You are not lazy. If you are a decent parent, as you likely are if you are reading blogs about parenting, you are working hard. Revising your emotional and mental and physical output to meet your own mothering stamina is smart. Replenishing your energy is good. Taking a break is not lazy, it’s wise. And so is asking for help.
How did we go from feeling fine as carefree childless people with non-stop free time…literally endless hours of doing whatever our single brains told us to do…. to judging ourselves for burning out from the non-stop hours of service we give to our children? With children, free time became parenting time.
We must not make the mistake of thinking that tired=lazy or that worn-out=weak. As a mother, you are dealing with untethered toddler or teenage emotions. You are creating and dispensing milk from your own body. You are cleaning up vomit from sheets at 2am. You are literally attending to the feces of other human beings for YEARS. You are not lazy or weak for wanting someone to bring a cooked meal to your door or clean your bathroom for you.
To bring our village back, we need to be visible. To ourselves and to others. To say what we want and need out loud.
Tied into this, of course, for a lot of us is that we have a hard time receiving good things. Often we don’t even know what we’re supposed to be asking for. Or what it is that we’re not receiving because we don’t know how to recognize its absence.
This can be delicate territory for partners who are not used to contributing equally to household tasks. When you have children, suddenly it becomes glaringly offensive if your partner doesn’t do dishes or laundry and never has. It becomes necessary for both partners to contribute to chores and errands in order to prevent burnout. And ideally, recognition for and sharing the invisible workload that we often forget we are doing. In this case, asking for help feels a lot like asking for equality, which can be a seismic shift. But with love and compassion, it can be broached. Especially if you start by seeing the value in the invisible, emotional, and unseen work of mothering.
In my mom’s interview, she spoke about how the stay-at-home moms she interviewed in the 70’s didn’t recognize their own work as moms because they didn’t really know how valuable it was. To ask for appreciation and receive the good that can come from being seen, we must see ourselves as good and recognize our own work and worth.
Instead of imagining yourself as needing to do the hard work of parenting and running a household all by yourself and feeling like a fat failure for struggling and wanting help, think of your parenting work as the work of 5 people that you are trying to do all by yourself. In this case, it’s not a failure to receive support and help. Help is natural and a necessity. Receiving help actually brings forward the wisdom of having a supportive family, a tribe, a village. It brings the unseen work you do out into the open where it can be seen and acknowledged so hopefully, eventually help will be offered before you even need to ask.