I have the great fortune of a willing and able community that has seen my family through some of the worst times. Last year, having lived in the Midwest a total of 3 years with no local family or long-standing friends, I put out a call to help cover 2 weeks of babysitting because my husband only had 1 week of paid time off left. I needed to go through an intensive 3-week program to help with my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And I had no shame in putting that “out there” because I function infinitely better than a lot of PTSD sufferers thanks to having years upon years of therapy. But this was going to be different (and it was).
Within 48 hours, all THREE weeks had been filled by various people and even more were offering to make us meals. My good friends here in the Midwest–who initially hung back from volunteering so they could fill in the gaps for us–never even got a babysitting shift. They were on backup for cancellations and heaven knows they have helped us plenty both before and after.
Since then (and even before then), I have experienced people saying to me “If you need anything, please be sure to let me know” and “I’m here to help if you need me”. In fact, I know I have said that plenty of times. I’m realizing now that those words are not quite as helpful as we mean them to be.
Because when you are in the thick of a struggle, you aren’t always ABLE to look up, take pause and reach out to others to GET help. It’s not about being too proud or too embarrassed or even feeling like a burden to other people. Sure, sometimes it is. Let’s be honest: none of us wants to be a burden on our friends, either. But I am not ashamed to ask for help. Still, I don’t do it often. I also think that sometimes (again, self included), we don’t realize that things are bad enough to warrant getting help… until we’re past it and say “Wow–that was rough” and realize after the fact that maybe we could have used some help with the kids or a meal.
Above and beyond just trying to keep all the plates in the air when you have a rough time, there is the simple reality that you may not even know what you could use or what would be helpful, let alone pick through your list of friends to connect who has the time to do what.
Sometimes I feel like we have cultivated a “surface level” culture where it’s possible to get away with a lot of “We’re doing fine”. At most, someone might look at you in a loving but digging way and say “Reeeallllly?” But if you respond with a smile and “Yes, really”–it’s left alone. Because we don’t really get more than a few sentences in on any kind of regular basis. Unless it’s about politics or religion or complaining about a relative… amiright?
So I offer a solution to this that will help those of you who TRULY WANT to help. Tis the season–try this out. Start with the people you are trying to draw in (see my post on “Who’s in your space” for guidance here)…
First, be sure to ask more questions on one topic. Take that conversation a little deeper. Find out more about the person you’re talking to and what they’re dealing with. Keep in mind that they may not even register that they’re fighting the battle because it crept up on them slowly and they’re not registering how hard things are, or that they could maybe use some help. Culturally, we’ve likened taking help in less-than-dire-circumstances to being weak or lazy. That needs to change; but you can change it by digging deeper in your conversations about the people you care about.
Second, be more exacting in what you have to offer them. I know that as I came to realize this problem, I became more careful about offering help. A friend was sick recently and she was all “we’re okay” about it but I was very explicit in what I had to offer. I told her “I could certainly pick up the kids and bring them back to my house so you could get a nap; and while I’m picking up the kids, I could drop you off some soup.” Another time I put out to a friend that I regularly had specific days and times where I don’t have things planned and could allocate those times to her if she needed them for babysitting, doing dishes or laundry, running to the grocery store for her, or just cooking and then dropping off food. Sometimes I have looked at my schedule and said “How about if I bring you a meal on (whatever day I can do that)? What should I avoid either because of allergies or just because your kids won’t eat it?”
By being clear about what you have to offer, the other person knows that they’re not asking more of you than you can do. Likewise, you don’t have to worry that they’ll ask something of you that would be difficult–but you might agree to just because we all know how hard it is for someone to ask for help. This is a win-win.
To that end, don’t offer more than you can do. The season of mayhem is upon us and many people are strapped in every way shape and form. But many also really need a hand right now.
If you need a hand to get yourself more organized, less stressed and overall healthier, by all means let me know. It’s what I do. And clearly, I know first-hand that it’s not always easy. <3