Lately, parenting has felt especially draining. The combo of my defiant, emotional 4-year-old daughter and my wild, oh-so-busy 21-month-old son (oh, and let’s not forget the joyful combo of an extended Halloween sugar overload and Daylight Saving Time, which always manages to throw off my family’s already precarious schedule) has left me with a wide range of four-letter words dancing through my head. OK, so quite a few have come out of my mouth, too, but there’s only one that I’m actually proud of saying. That very necessary four-letter word? Help.
It’s certainly not the easiest one for me (I much prefer a well-timed F-bomb). Admittedly, I’ve never been very good at asking others for help. Independent to a fault and raised by a wonderfully self-sufficient mother, who learned her ways from my strong-as-nails grandmother, I’ve always been all about doing it myself. As a child, I could often be found happily playing alone in my room. In school, I always preferred an independent study to a group project. At work, I enjoyed brainstorming with my peers but secretly relished the moments when I could just knock stuff out alone at my desk. When I started working from home, I prided myself on very rarely having to reach out to my boss or tech team for help. I was a self-sustaining, and I was proud of it. And then I became a mom.
As a mom of one, things felt manageable. I started working part-time and was thrilled when my in-laws offered to watch my daughter two days a week so I could work without worrying about the cost and stress of a nanny or daycare. I didn’t have to ask for help; they just offered it up, but admittedly, the time away from those never-ending needs of a baby, then a toddler, were sanity saving. But when I became pregnant with my son around my daughter’s second birthday, I knew I wanted to stay home full-time with my two little ones. Somehow I thought the decision meant simplifying my life, making outside help less necessary because I would no longer have to split my time between work and mom duties. How wrong I was. As a mom of two, I needed more help than ever, and it took me a long time to not feel guilty about that.
My in-laws were still coming for a few hours every week, allowing me to get some time away to run errands, write the occasional freelance piece, and just breathe. Yet, those few hours seemed to pass in seconds; some days, I’d pull into my neighborhood and circle the block for just a few more minutes of solitude. Something had to change, and I realized that thing involved giving myself permission to ask for and be open to help, in ways big and small.
I started by enlisting the help of our favorite babysitter for a few additional hours a week. My husband and I asked the grandparents to watch the kids for the occasional overnight so we could have time to reconnect. I asked my husband if he’d be up for me scheduling some nights out with my girlfriends. Everyone seemed thrilled to say yes. Apparently I myself had been a major roadblock in receiving the help I so desperately craved. So now I’m the woman who, yes, would love help out to my car with the groceries. And, yes, nice lady at Target, I’d be happy to cut in front of you after you notice my toddler is melting down. Waiters, my gym’s childcare providers, fellow moms at preschool drop-off and pick-up: I’ve asked them all for tiny favors, and, of course, I’ve given them in return. It took a while, but I realized asking for help doesn’t mean I’m any less capable; it just means I’m smart . . . and saying those other four-letter words a little less often.