I’ve seen these two sentences in almost exactly this same wording time and time again in recent weeks. Many of us say these words to ourselves, out into the air when we’re alone, in private to God or whomever we may believe in, or in other ways that don’t involve saying this to another person. We believe that saying it to anyone else is to admit we have failed.
I know how much courage it takes to say these words to another person. None of us likes to ask for help. None of us likes to feel that vulnerable with someone else. Society, marketing, all the parenting books, and nearly every message we hear say that we’re supposed to be able to handle everything that comes our way. This has been repeated so many times that everyone just assumes that’s what we’re all expected to be able to do. But that’s just not what’s true for any of us.
When we realize we can’t do it all, we still think everyone else can, so we see ourselves as failures. But we’re not. We’re human, and so is everyone else. We have to stop living this lie that we can all do this without help.
You Can’t Do This Alone
Perhaps it is more the truth to say, “I can’t do this alone. I need help.” You can do amazing things, but none of us are made to do them alone. We are made to work together as families, in trusted friendships, and as communities of support and allies.
This year for us has been an ongoing lesson in how badly we need other people. Between our older son’s challenges from autism, our younger son’s battles with cancer, and our own health difficulties as parents, we have often felt powerless in the face of everything we’ve been bombarded with.
We’ve leaned heavily on family and friends through all this. People we don’t even know have appeared to help us through. It’s given us a whole new perspective on how much people really want to help others.
Accepting As Well As Asking for Help
As hard as learning how to ask for help can be, learning how to accept help is just as hard. For a while as people offered us meals, sent thoughtful cards and messages, and even gave us money, I admit I felt ashamed. I didn’t want us to become a charity case. I felt like I had failed because we couldn’t handle things on our own.
But that was about my own ego. I realized I was tarnishing their gifts to us. They offered because they wanted to help us. I learned that whenever someone offers you help in any form, the first two words out of your mouth should be, “Thank you.” Honor the spirit of their gift with gratitude. Accept it graciously. You can do this both with humility and a grateful heart. There is certainly no shame in accepting such a gift.
Sustain Yourself for the Long Term
We spend a great deal of our time on our children’s needs but rarely enough on finding help and support for ourselves. That would make us better, and healthier, parents, but we often feel that to invest in ourselves is to take something away from our children. We’re all guilty of this. We feel like we are expected to sacrifice ourselves completely, which simply isn’t a sustainable way to live.
Instead focus on building your network of support with family, friends, and other parents. Be willing to spend time and money on getting some one-on-one support for yourself. I know money and time are in short supply for all of us, but I’ve found it to be well-spent when it makes that much of a positive impact on my life.
Build things into your week that support you and help you regroup. Read a book, listen to good music, pray or meditate, sit in silence for as long as you can, talk to someone you trust. Unless death or the loss of your home are imminent, let everything else wait a bit and carve out a little time here and there. It’s the only way to maintain yourself over the long term.
It’s always OK if you need to ask for help with any of this. You will always find people who want to help you and your family in whatever way they can. Trust me. You simply can’t sustain yourself over the long haul if you don’t.
Don’t wait until things start to fall apart. Start wherever you are, right now, and begin reaching out. Sketch out ways you can regroup and recharge and feel supported and sustained. Ask for help starting with people you trust. Practice asking for and receiving help. These are some of the most important things you’ll ever do as a parent.
Please, for your own sake, don’t wait.