by Jessica Martin-Weber
I was struck by the beauty of that island looking rock from afar on the shore in San Francisco. Then my friend told me it was so pretty because it was covered in bird poop. Poop Rock. Reminded me a lot of parenting, pretty from afar but sometimes lonely and covered in poop when you get up close.
Don’t lecture me, I know parenting is wonderful, I love it but that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes really hard and stinky like a rock covered in poop.
Last week, my good friend Cindy was battling pneumonia. It was horrible and scary. Her husband is in the military and away at the moment so she and her 4 children are on their own as she struggles to get well. I couldn’t get to her, we’re over 8 hours from each other in different countries, but I wish I could. Every time I saw her share something of her struggle I was moved, inspired, and ready to jump in the van (that broke down 4 days after I wrote this). Through Facebook, I feel like I get to keep up with my friend and in some small way offer support. I wish I could do more. Yet even so sick and all the way in Canada, my friend reminded me of something incredibly important: we all need help from time to time.
Asking for help is one of the hardest needs to voice sometimes. Or all the time. People judge and are judged for even needing help and we all feel it. There is such shame attached to needing help or even encouragement. We’re all supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and in made for TV moments, triumph over whatever challenges we face. Alone. Without resources. Without bragging. Without getting anything we don’t deserve because by our own blood, sweat, and tears we paid for it or worked for it or fought for it all on our own. We talk about the strength of the human spirit and applaud those that figure out how to go it without help. And anyone that is worn out, broken down, or overwhelmed must be less of a person. Even in a safe place, like The Leaky Boob Facebook, mothers (and sometimes dads too) may take the bold step to admit they are struggling but do so with trepidation, beating themselves up for being a “horrible parent, feeling like a failure” before someone else does, all because they find parenting hard sometimes.
This cultural attitude of glorifying individualism and self-sufficiency is hard enough when children aren’t involved, but when we become parents it’s not just us any more. Our pride can get in the way of seeking out desperately needed help. Pregnancy and childbirth set the precedent in parenting without help and while I love doulas and highly recommend having doula support for birthing women (I have for mine), traditionally the role wasn’t a paid position but one filled by a family member, friend, or a member of the community. There seems to be a growing sense of shame in needing help from someone who isn’t designated as a paid professional. We see it in infant nutrition all the time, mothers struggling but too embarrassed to admit breastfeeding isn’t working as well as it “naturally” should as she struggles with pain and a frustrated baby or families not knowing where to turn when they need an alternative. In fact, the number one reason mother’s don’t reach their personal breastfeeding goals is lack of support. Support = help. But it certainly isn’t isolated to the area of infant nutrition, pregnancy, and child birth. Parenting dilemmas such as health care, child care, discipline, education, financial stress, housing, safety, you name it, are often hindered by our own pride in asking for help. As though needing a helping hand occasionally, let alone for a long season, is an indication of inadequacies or failure. Afraid it reflects badly on us and our abilities, many parents forgo voicing their need for support and actual help because we know people will say things like “you shouldn’t have had children if you couldn’t handle it” (what are parents supposed to do, put the kids back from where they got them?), we suffer quietly and so do our children. Sometimes it’s major roadblocks that threaten the health and safety of the family, particularly the children, others deplete personal internal resources and reinforce feelings of failing over every day aspects of parenting that may wear us down. Either way, while learning to deal with hardships and having the experience of overcoming them on our own once in a while can be empowering, is this isolation really what we want to be the norm?
But the truth is we all benefit when we help each other, yes, even when we admit we need help and ask for it. Not only individually are we strengthened, our communities are too. It can be risky though, by admitting our struggles, we’re opening ourselves up for criticizing judgment or worse, being ignored and that is more than hard, it’s down right terrifyingly heart breaking. Most parents would do anything including swallowing their pride to care for their children, there’s not a job we wouldn’t work or begging we are above when it comes to the safety and provision of our children. That fear though, the fear of judgment or of not mattering enough for someone to even notice, can be paralyzing and parents may, unintentionally, cause suffering for their children simply because the cultural attitudes about asking for help have effectively silenced them for issuing the call when most needed. Yet almost no parent would say their child deserved less.
Asking for help is something I continue to grow in along with knowing how to offer help, carefully avoiding judgment. Including learning how to have grace without judgment for myself. The journey hasn’t been easy and I’m still learning. How does one master admitting you can’t do something on your own? That you don’t have it all together and need others? I’m not sure yet but I know it has gotten easier for me simply by looking at my children, I never want them to be afraid to ask for my help when they encounter difficulties. They have not only been my inspiration in seeking out help when I need it, but sometimes my teachers. They have shown me the joy that comes from helping and being helped, the agony that comes from pride getting in the way. From communicating my need for help during difficult pregnancies to admitting I don’t know how to handle certain parenting situations, to finding a mentor in understanding child development when my children were driving me crazy to even asking for financial support because we lack the funds required to help our daughter reacher her dreams, though Jeremy and I work hard for our family, admitting we can’t always do it on our own and that we’re not an island but in fact need the village, our children are the ones that have benefited the most from us humbling ourselves to say three little words: “help me please.” Accepting our limitations is the first step in being able to strengthen each other. I firmly believe that in strengthening, supporting, and yes helping, parents makes for a healthier community that is stronger, more creative, and more skilled. What a gift we can give our children.
My friend Cindy, has posted on Facebook a few pleas for help with her children so she can rest. Yes, she could keep trying to go it on her own, likely prolonging her illness and a lower level of care for her children while she tries to recover. There are risks to her not recovering, potentially problematic for those around her. Worse, she could end up in the hospital and her children in the custody of someone else for an indeterminate amount of time. It is to her health benefit, the benefit of the health care system, the benefit of her children, and the benefit of her friends for her to ask for help. Her recovery will be aided and the community circles around her will be stronger as a result. Relationships are being fortified as her friends respond to her pleas and offer their support not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. I am so incredibly proud of her asking for help. Knowing her personally I know that she is a capable, strong, and hard working woman, talented as a journalist and an attentive and loving mother. This moment of needing help (and the next one that comes her way) are not a reflection of her capabilities, simply a moment where her humanity is evident. And she has already paid it forward and will do so again. Because she gets that we need each other. We all do.