Mommy’s little helper?

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let-me-knowbecause-I-said-so-goldA 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.

 

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Elyssa Andrus has worked as a journalist for 14 years, most recently as the lifestyle editor at the Daily Herald newspaper in Provo. She is a contributor to the KSL-TV show "Studio 5" and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking" (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Natalie Hollingshead. She lives with her husband and four young children in Utah Valley.

3 Comments

  1. Loralee Reply

    As a person who has a hard time letting others help me, I’ve discovered that most of the time I don’t even know myself what I need help with! When the talk “First Observe, Then Serve” was given I realized that it requires REAL, CONSCIENTIOUS effort to give meaningful help…whether it is a phone call or a card, or vacuuming someone’s house. Sending a group text to the women in the neighborhood who have very full lives that you’re heading to the grocery store and can you pick anything up for them was a step in the right direction for me, as well as taking a moment to think about how someone could help me when they asked. We could all use the “blessings” of service…why not seek them out for ourselves as well as give others the chance to receive them?

  2. Sandy Reply

    I loved this article! I need to be better about being specific when help is offered, but I thought I’d share a story about the ever-so-unhelpful phrase, “Let me know if you need anything.” When we bought our new house almost 2 years ago, our neighbor stopped by the one night to introduce herself. We were there late painting. I was 35 weeks pregnant, and my husband and I were painting the whole main floor, ceiling to baseboards. Our neighbor offered, “Let me know if you need anything!” and then left! After she left, I thought, “Seriously? You couldn’t tell that we needed help painting?” I was obviously very pregnant–I think she and I had already had a discussion about coordinating meals for when the baby was born–and I was shocked that she seemed to not notice that help painting or taping would be very helpful when it was so difficult for me to bend over to reach the baseboards. After that, I’ve tried to be more specific when I offer help–I’ll still say that I’m willing to help with anything, but then give some specific examples so they realize that I’m serious and that I’ve given my offer some thought.

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