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Asking for, Accepting & Offering Help

2013-02-22_1361568884@0One of the issues that comes across my feeds everywhere on social media is about how hard it is asking for help.

I’ve been a part of the isolating world of special needs parenting for over a decade and one thing that is true is that it is isolating. It doesn’t always have to be. It can be extremely hard for us to reach out and ask for help. Some of us don’t even know what to ask for, honestly. It is overwhelming thinking about how you will shower and get regular household chores done, that it’s not surprising it seems nearly impossible to plan the next two weeks and figure out different ways friends and family can help.

In fact, we can all ask for help, not just parents in the special needs world. The subject came up in a friend’s status update on Facebook prompted by the Postpartum Progress feed of posts during Mother’s Day. Women with new babies and postpartum depression often feel isolated. The reasons aren’t as important as it is to say we don’t need to feel isolated.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when parents didn’t feel isolated. My parents had a circle of 10-20 friends right down the block and around the corner. As children, we would float, as a group usually, from one house to another to find lunch or dinner or to play. We would wander to parks and through alleys until the street lights came on then we would head home. We had an instant community of kids and their parents.

I remember as a child there was a program in my inner city whereby houses that were “safe” havens along the path to and from school had visible signs in their windows. These signs were handed out from safe parent to safe parent so that our path of one mile – 12 entire blocks – we walked to and from school consisted of a few houses on each block we could go to for assistance if we felt threatened. I have no memory ever needing it as a child, but I knew it was there, waiting and it was comforting. I knew families had each others’ backs.

I think growing up with that mentality and seeing my parents and their friends lean on each other I just figured that is what you do. You offer help when you can and you take help when you need it. Is it something that is handed down? Do we learn it from our parents exclusively? Do we rely on friends to teach us when we become older? To force us to accept or give help?

When did we learn that we have to do all of the life – this living – alone? We weren’t meant to live isolated from family and friends. I think the Internet gives us the feeling we’re connected and we are in real ways, but in tangible, in-person applications, it just doesn’t cut it.

Some ways to ask for help…

  • If you’re alone during the day, pick the hardest times and ask someone to come over for a couple of hours, even if they also have children. You’d be surprised how much better it is to fix dinner and do bath time with a friend. We put the kids in pjs so the time to go was about bedtime for the kids.
  • Ask a friend to go to an appointment with you to entertain the kids. I know for us, with multiple appointments that first year we had friends meet us. Each Monday I had to take the kids in for a year for blood pressure checks. Many Mondays friends rotated and came with me. They would often hand me a bag of food for dinner.
  • Schedule regular time for yourself. You can carve out an hour or two for yourself. You can. Sometimes you have to be creative. Maybe swap babysitting and go see a movie with a friend. Seek time away. It’s not easy but it is necessary for your mental health.
  • When someone says, “Is there anything I can do?” answer, “Yes, there is…” Go ahead and practice those words. For some reason they seem to be the hardest words to say. Have a random list of five things on a list at any given time you can parcel off to people. Come by and visit at 5pm because that’s a really hard time for me?Shop for a gift for someone and wrap and mail it? Stop by the pharmacy? Maybe it would help to have a few items from the grocery store dropped off and they could stay for a visit. Be specific.
  • Go outside of yourself. It’s so easy to stay inside and be isolated. It’s just easier. It’s not better but it is easier. Sometimes it takes courage to branch out and do something new. Don’t feel bad that you have to find the courage to do something different. Branching out is especially helpful when you find a group of like-minded parents. Get out in the neighborhood and meet people. For the first year with my first child, each afternoon I could I would sit outside. I would usually end up talking to a retired, widowed neighbor for a couple of hours. I looked forward to those visits like you wouldn’t believe.

Some ways to provide help…

  • Keep an eye on a friend who is a new parent or is dealing with a new situation like caring for their parents, a job change, a life change and reach out. It’s so comforting to hear from a friend who knows you might be fragile.
  • Drop by someone’s house with a basket of muffins. Forget this have to call first mentality. If it’s a good time, stay for a visit for a few minutes if you have time.
  • Make plans with someone you think needs some extra support and keep them. In fact, make regular standing plans with a friend who needs extra support. In a loving way, don’t take no for an answer.
  • Send a card, make a call, don’t give up. If someone pushes you away, it’s likely because they don’t know how to accept help. Give them time. Offer again.

Often times we think we’re supposed to do it alone but we’re not meant to. We’re meant to be here for each other in big and small ways. Don’t keep people from helping you and don’t keep yourself from the rewarding experience of helping.

Another post about asking for help

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