A few weeks ago, my son’s Cub Scout leader was having dental surgery. This is a woman who has patiently and enthusiastically taught my 8-year-old everything from knot tying to the importance of personal hygiene — someone had to — and I would do anything for her. I sent her a quick email asking if there was anything I could do.
What she did next shocked and delighted me.
She emailed back something specific and easy that she needed (ice cream), probably just to allow me to feel good about myself as a world humanitarian. It was such a simple thing, really, but it got me thinking:
Why is it so hard for us as parents to ask one another for help? Why aren’t I better about offering it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve probably uttered the phrase “let me know if you need anything” a handful of times recently. But even though my friends are having babies and battling the stomach flu and (honestly and truly) donating organs, no one ever seems to need anything.
I had a friend, well, an acquaintance, in high school who was always saying that “we should seriously get together sometime.” I liked this girl, so I’d suggest a time, but she was always, always busy. It would have given me a massive complex, except that she did it with everyone, to the point where “seriously getting together sometime” became kind of a joke and a catchphrase.
I’ve come to feel that “let me know if there is anything I can do for you” is that same sort of empty platitude, a verbal tic, even though I mean it when I say it, and I know you do, too.
The problem is that in most cases we as parents have a hard time asking for assistance, even when we are awash with hormones and sleep deprivation and sobbing in our bedrooms, or agonizing over a wayward teenager who is putting us through a hundred different kinds of hell. I have no idea why we feel as though we need to suffer in silence, to bury our anxieties or disappointments and plaster on happy faces for the world. I just know that I want to be better about asking for help myself, and to be much, much better about giving it. So here are some things I’m going to try to do:
1. Rephrase the question
Instead of asking, “What can I do for you?” I’m going to be more specific, as in “Can I watch your kids on Thursday?” or “What day this week would be good for me to take you to lunch?” Sometimes I won’t even ask — I’ll just jump in and do what needs doing (like the teenage neighbors who shovel my driveway the minute it snows).
My sister just got back from visiting a friend who is newly widowed. When I asked how the woman was doing, my sister said that another friend was over vacuuming the widow’s house. I can’t imagine a situation where the widow called and said, “What I really need right now is carpet lines.” Instead, I picture her friend quietly stepping in assessing what was needed, and doing something, anything, she could to show her love.
2. Be there now and later
After I had my third baby, my next door neighbor brought me a baby gift, made me dinner and watched my kids for me. I felt well cared for. But then she kept calling and offering to watch my kids, week after week. She got me through the rough patch where my two boys were trying to set the house on fire while I nursed my daughter. I will always be grateful to her and mindful that it’s sometimes in the later months following a major life change that help is most needed.
3. Bring more than a casserole
Sometimes people really do need a lasagna. Growing up, one of my favorite parts of the birth of a new sibling was the crazy amount of delicious food that would appear at my house. But sometimes a phone call, card or a text is just as important. It’s important to nourish each other emotionally and spiritually as well as physically.
4. Be humble enough to ask for help when it’s needed
Just as we serve, we must allow others the opportunity to serve us. For example, when a friend offers to help me carry my two babies across an icy parking lot, I’ll take that help with gratitude … instead of guilt. Hopefully, next time it will be my turn to lend a hand.