We all know it takes a village to raise a child, don’t we? And that’s all well and good in theory, but how do we go about actually asking for help, when most of us have spent our lives being praised for being independent, ‘capable’ or ‘on top of things’?
Just like wrapping a baby or breastfeeding, asking for help is a skill that takes practice.
Here are 13 tips for doing just that.
1. Practice identifying your needs. If we don’t often talk about our needs, chances are we don’t often think about them either. Rather than leaving it until resentment, anger, exhaustion or loneliness take over, ask yourself: What do I need in this moment? Keep asking, as often as you can (put some reminders around the house if it helps). To begin with, simply make a mental note of what comes up, no matter how silly or ‘unnecessary’ it may seem.
2. Get specific. We can be pretty good at identifying what we don’t want, for example, I wish my baby didn’t cry every time I left the room! Use this knowledge to seek out the particular need underneath: If my baby didn’t cry when I left the room, what would that give me? A mental break? Time to make some decent food? Reassurance that I’m doing a good job? Each of these specific needs can be helped in multiple ways, even if your baby keeps crying.
3. Go crazy! Pay attention even to needs that seem strange. Just because you don’t understand why you have an urge to eat a whole avocado, or go for a swim, or play around with your toddler’s toy dinosaurs, doesn’t mean the need doesn’t have a perfectly good basis. It’s important to nourish our inner child as we learn the very adult responsibilities of parenthood.
4. Talk about it. It’s amazing how powerful it can be to acknowledge your needs out loud and have someone else hear them (even if they can’t help).
5. Brainstorm. List down all the possible kinds of help that might address your need. Family, friends, changes to your environment, services, education, personal choices, online communities, real-life groups, professionals. Some useful questions are: If I did have what I needed, what would have changed for me to have it? What support am I already getting, and can I build on that? If I woke up tomorrow and something miraculous had happened, what would that be? And my favourite: What’s the first small step I’m going to take to seek the help I need?
6. Challenge your own hesitation. We all know it makes sense to ask for help, and yet time and time again our inner rules and worries hold us back. Explore these, and see what you find. What’s challenging about asking for help? What would it mean about me if I did ask?...Would it really mean that? What would it mean if someone wasn’t able or willing to help?...Really? What do I think of other parents who ask for help? How is not asking for help working for me? What are some good reasons for seeking help?
7. Start small. Get used to the process by asking for small favours. Would you mind holding the baby while I go to the loo? Is it OK if I tell you about my day for a few minutes? Notice how people respond.
8. Be honest. If you tell someone it isn’t important, they won’t know it’s important. If you let someone wash the dishes, when what you really need is a long chat, or vice versa, you’ll both feel unfulfilled. People enjoy knowing that they are being truly helpful. And your being honest about your own needs allows other people to be honest about theirs. We all win.
9. Work with your expectations. Not everyone will be able or willing to help you every time you ask. Expecting 100% from people (even if that’s what you feel you would give them) is setting yourself up to feel let down or self-critical. When you ask for help, you may get enthusiasm, gratitude, confusion, surprise, concern, or hesitation in response. None of these is a no, so before you say ‘never mind’, take a breath, and hear them out. I’m not sure that I can help does not mean I think you’re pathetic/selfish/terrible.
10. Be persistent. Unfortunately, there is less support for birthing parents than is needed in our culture, and in some ways, our parents’ and grandparents’ generations have had even less. This doesn’t mean you don’t deserve or need support, but it does mean you may have to seek what you need in a few different places in order to get it. Sometimes, someone might respond with apologies for not being able to help, unwillingness or even offence. None of these invalidates your need, or your asking. Oliver Twist didn’t berate himself for needing more gruel, just because Mr Bumble didn’t give it to him, did he?
11. Do it for your child. Our children need us to have enough energy and fulfilment to be able to nourish and support them as they grow. And if they are ever to learn to understand their own needs and ask for help, they need us to show them how.
12. Call in a professional. Don’t be afraid to seek out someone who’s trained in support. A postnatal doula, lactation consultant, massage therapist, birth story healer, relationship counsellor, cleaner, psychologist or parent educator is often worth their weight in gold.
13. Plan in advance. There are some kinds of support you know you’ll need postpartum, right? Meal rosters, nappy services, postnatal doulas and people to help clean, garden, babysit older children, or take care of pets can all be enlisted prenatally so you don’t have to think about it while you adjust to new parenthood.
Diana is a mum, doula, childbirth mentor and birth story healer, serving the families of Adelaide. You can find out more about her work on her website Hundred Rivers