Discover more from Other Feminisms
Asking for Help and Enforced Pauses
Plus a panel on New Feminism.
It’s been quiet over here because I have been battling a rapidly escalating staph infection. I’m going to be fine, but it was a low trough to climb out of, and I’m very grateful to all the helpers, especially the ER docs.
While I’m resting, I’m happy to share that the panel on New Feminism I was part of in California with Erika Bachiochi and Abigail Favale is now online.
Since I talk a lot about our essential neediness, I wanted to just give a quick rundown of things people have done for me in the last week.
Unofficial phone consult from a friend in medical school, when a first doctor’s advice seemed disconnected from the gravity of the situation.
My husband’s school letting him come in late so he could dress and prep our girls for school and letting him skip all non-class duties for one particularly hard day.
Friendly Mom 1 driving both my girls to care and doing mid-day pickup for several days. Also getting my girls into shoes and jackets and gathering their things from all around the house.
Friendly Mom 2 driving one of my girls to care and then bringing her back to her house for lunch two days running, so I didn’t have to do lunch prep or cleanup.
Local Teen coming over for three hours on the weekend as a mother’s helper.
Friendly Mom 3 hearing how I was doing and asking which night not whether she could bring us dinner.
Friendly Mom 1 (again!) inviting my family to pizza night at her house, so we’d need to do neither prep nor cleanup.
Grandparents doing facetime calls to keep girls entertained without the usual games of, um, somersault off of Mama’s head.
A parish priest bringing the Eucharist to our house when I couldn’t go to Mass.
My bigger daughter standing near me to bark a warning to anyone (including my husband) she thinks is standing perilously close to “Mama’s big boo-boo.”
And amid all this, as you may guess, my husband was arranging meals, doing cleanup, helping with changing gauzes, running all bedtimes, bringing me food/medicine/water.
He’s been single parenting with one extra charge. (He also got an IOU instead of a birthday cake).
As O. Carter Snead writes in What it Means to Be Human, neediness ripples outward. When a caregiver rushes forward to care for someone in need, their openness to vulnerability makes them more dependent, and they require someone else to step forward, too.
I’m very lucky, because we’re embedded in a tightly connected community that can spread that demand over more people, and make it sustainable. The three things that made it easiest to ask for help were:
Help is already habitual. Every new mom on our Catholic women’s listserv gets ten meals from the community, and there are enough babies that there’s a new mealtrain signup more than once a month. Being asked to stand in the gap for another family is part of everyone’s normal—you leave slack for it.
It’s easy to make need visible. Having a chatty listserv makes it easy and natural to ask for help, as part of a continuing conversation. You can loft up a big need, knowing other people will step forward to take on a part of the task. (I’ve written more on this for Comment).
A friendship marked by shared dependence. It’s one thing to send a request to the listserv, where anyone can volunteer, and another to make an ask of an individual, which she has to say yes or no to. It helped to have a good friend (Friendly Mom 1) who I’d previously needed to rely on for smaller things, so that need wasn’t alien to our friendship. I try to be helpful to her, too, but the indebtedness is definitely lopsided, and that’s the shape our friendship has for now. (I’ve written more on friendship and long term debt here).
When you look over the long list above, it’s so clear that we needed more than just our family (as wonderful as my husband has been) to absorb the need of a short term shock. And that need for rings of support is even more pronounced in cases of a long-term debility.