Getting Help

It was a Friday afternoon. I was flat on my back with the flu. As the children played with a friend, my husband was working frantically on a big mailing and I was doing my best to help--trying to hurry the process along so that we could pack up for our family's long-awaited winter weekend away (which couldn't have come at a worse time). When our friend came to pick up her son, it wasn't hard for her to notice that we were feeling a little stretched, and it wasn't long before she offered to help. Could she take our children home with her while we packed? It was a kind offer, but I couldn't see that it would really save anything. With me being sick, this was actually a good opportunity for them to pitch in and help with the packing. So I explained, thanked her, and went on distractedly gluing malfunctioning envelopes.

I have a feeling that other parents have been in this situation before. We're used to being overwhelmed. We're used to having more than we can handle. Why should we need any help? Stressed out as we are, it's easy to see an offer of help as a useless gesture, or (heaven forbid!) a criticism of our ability to cope, or just one more person to pay attention to, one more thing to handle.

Given that experience, it's not surprising that we can be a little shy in offering help to others. If our help is not immediately and gratefully seized, it's easy to start picking up those stress signals and doubting whether it was what they really needed. After all, we certainly don't want an overburdened parent to feel criticized. We wouldn't want to impose ourselves on them or make their lives harder. Probably they really do know best what will be useful to them, and we should quietly go back to minding our own business.

Yet I think it is when we are most in need of help that we are least able to either recognize or accept it easily. We've moved into our survival-in-isolation mode, in which the concept of help has no meaning. It's hard to even notice that anybody else is real. It's certainly hard to come up with a good response to an offer that has come in from left field and taken us totally by surprise.

Luckily my friend is a perceptive woman. Her son was not eager to go, so she was still there a couple of minutes later, listening to me worrying, as I lay there on the sofa, about all the things that had to be done before we could leave. All of a sudden, she said, "I know. I'll stay and help with the mailing." She told her son he could play a while longer, went out to the kitchen to make some tea for both of us, then rolled up her sleeves and sat down among the piles at the dining room table with my husband.

If she had asked if we needed help with it, I probably would have said, "No, we can manage fine, thank you." Luckily, she didn't ask. She sized up the situation and announced her plan. And I heard it with a great feeling of thankfulness and relief. I have no doubt that we would have managed somehow without her. (It's amazing what parents under stress can pull off) but it was a real gift. She had made our day a little more possible, cushioned some of the rough edges that were beginning to rub, and added a little grace to our lives.

The lesson for me is to remember the value of an offer of help. If I'm the tired and overwhelmed parent, to pull myself back from way off in do-it-yourself land and consider that I really could use some help from another living and breathing human being. If I have a little space and am offering it to another parent in need, to not back down if it is automatically deflected away, but to simply start picking up some of the pieces. I can be confident that when we're thinking well, we would all choose to share the load.