The Mommy Vortex: HELP!
It always amazes me the way my children scream “MOMMY?!!” – as if someone is dismembering them in their own home – when they need the slightest bit of help. You know, like when one of their gazillion microscopic plastic pieces gets lost in the sea of stuffed animals. It’s as if the end of the world is upon us. “I NEED YOUR HELP NOOOOOW,” my kids passionately shriek, their piercing wail never failing to startle me. Kids, it seems, are never hesitant to ask for help. For anything. Ever.
Which makes me wonder: when, over the course of my own life, did the ability to ask for help suddenly escape me? I never ask for help. I seem to have the phrase “I can do it myself” cycling on a constant loop in my brain. Yet sometimes, it’s just ridiculous not to ask for help. Like a few weeks ago, when I was writhing in pain at two in the morning from what I now know was a passing kidney stone. As I lay in a fetal position on the floor, crying in pain (only interrupted by violent episodes of vomiting), my husband insisted on taking me to the hospital – and calling my parents to watch the kids. Even in my pain-induced stupor, I remember telling him, “No, I don’t want to bother them.”
Yeah, I really said that.
I actually think if I hadn’t been in so much pain he would have thrown something at me. I admit, it was an absolutely ridiculous response. This was an emergency – I was pretty sick, and I still refused to ask for help. My husband (thankfully) overruled my insanity, and as I began to think clearly again (due, in no small part, to the hospital’s morphine drip tucked safely into my right arm), I realized that I really needed to change my attitude when it came to asking for help.
So many of us women and moms think we can handle everything ourselves, and some of us (including me), believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I have actually perfected the “never-say-no / always-volunteer-to-help / refuse-to-ask-for-help-for-yourself” Trifecta of Insanity.
And you know, that recipe doesn’t really work. I’m always complaining that I have too much to do for one person, but then I never ask for help. I just have too much trouble getting past the “I can do it all” mentality that, honestly, belies any connection to reality.
I don’t know if it’s some deep-seeded need to please others, or the misguided thinking that I have do everything (alone) to prove my worth, I think I’m starting to get the message that my mentality needs to change, albeit slowly.
Not long after the kidney-stone debacle, my friend offered to drive me to a mutual friend’s baby shower. I accepted the ride, and told her how grateful I was that she offered to help as I wasn’t up to driving yet. She was a bit taken aback at my response, and told me (quite bluntly), that if I didn’t feel well enough to drive yet, I should have taken the initiative and proactively asked for her help to get me there. Of course, she was right; people are not mind-readers.
We need to express our need for support. And as the excellent social worker that she is, she also gently pointed out to me that recognizing our own needs and the needs of our families, in an effort to marshal our resources when necessary, is actually a sign of strength – not weakness.
I never really looked at it that way before, as I don’t often want to admit that I can’t do something without assistance. Even though I constantly offer my help to others – and never think less of them for accepting my help – I still find it incredibly difficult to have others return the favor. It’s a short-sighted, and frankly, unproductive, way to live. There are times I could be more efficient – less stressed, even – if I just asked for and accepted help.
Over time, I’ve learned that other people generally don’t offer assistance unless they are genuinely willing and able to provide it. Yes, sometimes an offer of help is an empty gesture, but for the most part, I find authenticity in their offers. And if I’m able to recognize when others need help, why don’t I recognize it for myself? Sometimes, like my social worker friend pointed out, it’s the stronger choice.
I’m still not sure where along the line I stopped asking for help. If I was anything like my own children, there was likely a time I asked for (no, demanded) help dozens of times a day. And while some my kids’ cries for help are not exactly representative of a valid need for assistance, I do like the fact that they recognize that there are others around to support them when they need it.
I’d like for my kids to see that adults do the same – rely on each other for support and assistance when needed. It’s a good model for the kids to learn, so that one day they will be ready and able to both ask for meaningful help and provide it to others.
In the end, that means I have to start making better decisions, and acknowledging when I need some assistance. It also means I have to actually graciously accept the help – which, as I learned the hard way, is sometimes incredibly necessary.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.