When you ask me for help . . .
It feels like you trust me.
It feels like maybe we might be best friends.
I feel special.
Most of all I feel happy to make your day a little bit easier, knowing I have something to offer that helps. I have a purpose. I feel connected.
When you text me at night while I put the dishes away, “Hey I really need help tomorrow, can you pick up the kids for school?”
I text you all the emojis back. A hundred percent! Totally! Thumbs up! I might even tell my husband, “My friend asked for help!”
This is a bad sign. Why is it so unusual for us to ask for help? Where are we for each other?
I’ll probably go another six months before another friend asks for anything, and it might be a year before a friend accepts an offer I extend. Who knows when I’ll ask a friend for help. Probably never.
Before you think I’m a terrible hermit, I do have friends. We love each other.
But we don’t rely on each other the way we could.
I once asked a friend whose husband was working overtime in the middle of a move if I could take her two sons for the afternoon.
“It’s OK!” She said, fake-cheerfully. “Thanks anyway.”
I felt like I wasn’t safe enough for her kids, like she didn’t trust me. I worried I missed the mark not knowing what she needed at that moment. I felt horrible.
Probably, she didn’t want to bother me or she might have been afraid I was only offering to be nice. I know because I’ve done the same to my friends.
“Send him over any time! My youngest would love to hang out,” a friend has said at least three times to me. The problem with “any time” is it could be no time, too.
So I don’t take her up on it even if I’d love to. I’d love to go for a run, go for a pedicure, go to the store. I’d love to accept her help, but if I did, I’d feel guilty, maybe like I owed her, and I don’t want the pressure.
Ladies, we need to do better.
Many of us don’t live near family. Some lucky ones do, but we might have a complicated relationship with extended family that doesn’t include childcare.
Many of us work outside the home.
Even families with one dedicated stay-at-home parent need help. It can’t be all on one person. We sign up for volunteer shifts we didn’t mean to take on that now conflict with our partner’s work schedule. Too bad.
We get sick. We want a break! (How dare we.)
We pay for childcare that always seems to be in short supply and rely on last-minute tense negotiations with our partners.
We’re marooned on the island of the fake-strong nuclear family, surrounded by the infinite horizon of our children’s young lives, with no lifeboat or margarita in sight.
Our friends live on islands just around the corner, close enough to build a bridge if we could only see them through the own fog of our own debilitating independence.
A while ago I tried to encourage my small community of moms to use an app meant to swap babysitting hours and collect points to be used with other moms.
No one used it.
Later that year I invited four friends to do a childcare swap for our 1-year-olds. It worked pretty well for a few months, but soon people’s schedules changed and it fell apart.
We need to be better at asking for and accepting help in small moments. We need to let go of the ledger in our heads telling us, “I asked too much,” or “she asks too often” or “I don’t deserve it.”
Last weekend, I texted my sister to say I was skipping a birthday party because I had PMS. Also, I hate birthday parties. She offered to take my kids along with hers. My fingers hovered over the text screen, ready to type, “It’s OK!” in my fake-cheerful, I-don’t-need-you voice.
Then she said, “I’ll pick them up at 10:45.”
“That sounds awesome,” I wrote back. And it was.