The embarrassing quandary of asking for help
I really don’t like asking for help. I don’t know many people who do.
Last week I lost my bank card on the way to visiting a friend who had given birth just a week ago. I immediately cancelled the card but realized that I was stuck without it. My husband and children were away and, without my card I wouldn’t be able to get home or to work the next day. As I walked up her street I realized I would have to ask my sleep-deprived friend with a teeny baby (who could probably barely sit down and would be newly adjusting to a world of baby sick, breast milk and yellow poo) whether she could ‘lend me a tenner’ to tie me over? Jeez, she probably wouldn’t even be able to find her wallet for all I knew.
It felt wrong. After all, I was visiting her because I was meant to be the one offering help in these circumstances. I was the one bringing food, an appropriate gift, a helpful book and wise, ‘older Mum’ been-there-done-that parenting advice. How embarrassing to turn up on her doorstep and ask HER to give ME money?
I arrived, sat down and listened to my friend talking about her time in hospital and how her whole world had changed with her new arrival. She hardly had time to feed herself, she said. Things were tough. When there was a lull in the conversation I decided to throw in nonchalantly, with a little chuckle to ease my nervous discomfort, the fact that I had lost my bank card and would she be able to lend me some money to tie me over until Azariah was back? So I could get home and to work tomorrow? I looked down at the floor, embarrassed, suddenly becoming fascinated by the square patterns on her rug. Eek. Vulnerability. Awkward.
But then something interesting happened. The dynamics of the conversation and the atmosphere in the room suddenly changed. My friend lept up eagerly, (well, as eagerly as someone who has just given birth can) and, like a little treasure pixie, rushed to find as much money as she could around her house. She seemed inanely joyful at the prospect of offering me practical help – I was hugely thankful.
As I sat there awkwardly watching her dart around the house, it dawned on me. Here is a woman who is probably having to rely on others a lot right now (I know I did when I had just given birth) in order to support her child and look after her body. She is probably really happy that she can help me out. That she can actually do something and make a difference. In the same way that I was enjoying being with her and bringing food and gifts and a listening ear, maybe she’s enjoying being able to give me money to get home and to work? This is what relationships are all about. Giving AND receiving. Sometimes at the same time!
Like me, lots of people also struggle to ask for help. Many of us are pretending that we are self-sufficient. That we can manage alone. That we are all-capable, all-knowledgeable and don’t need anyone else because we are just fine. Because asking for help is a sign of weakness, right? That’s what we’re brought up to believe.
I think there are some days as a parent that I am nearer to the edge of my sanity than I would like to admit. With three small children I know that I cannot survive for very long on my own resources, wit or energy. In fact, some days I can’t even get everyone to school by 9am on my own resources, wit or energy. By the time I’ve dropped the older two off at the school gate I feel like I’ve already run a marathon. An emotional marathon. I’ve learnt and am still learning that I need the help of others.
Like that time when my husband was away and I was ill and I just couldn’t face putting the children to bed by myself.
And the time when we needed to pack for going on holiday but the children were just so full of energy and wanted to go to the park.
And the time when I had an urgent work deadline and no childcare and we were living in a new city and I just felt so exhausted and isolated.
There’s no easy solution to this need that many of us have for help and this difficulty we have in asking for it. However, there’s a group of people who have really helped us these past six years of parenting three small children. We have invited this group of people into our lives as our attempt at creating our own version of a ‘village’ because, as the African Proverb says, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. This group is called The Life Village and each Life Villager offers our children a skill or resource to help nurture them. It’s not a perfect solution but we feel it is a step in the right direction towards living more interdependently.
Many people already have an extended family who can offer this kind of support. But many don’t. Which is why we’d love to see more families starting a Life Village for their child. This village is helping our children to grow. It’s also helping us as parents to grow too.
Asking for help is hard. Asking people to join the Life Village was hard. Just like asking my friend for some money. But it isn’t weakness. It’s a sign of strength. It demonstrates that I know that I can’t be everything and do everything for my children and that I value the contribution of others. Asking for help is risky as it means people may say no. And that’s ok because it also offers people the chance to give which can be a way for them to experience joy too. And for me to practice thankfulness.
I want to model real relationships to my children. I want to model the joy of giving and receiving. I want them to know that they can always ask for help if they need it. That it’s not a sign of weakness. So I’ve got to lead the way. When they ask for help with their art or their spelling, how much to I praise them for asking and respond to them joyfully? Through the Life Village that each of them have I hope that they will all grow up to have rich, fulfilling relationships and to know the joy and the challenge of giving and receiving.
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