I appreciated seeing this story from Emily on twitter, and the role my Comment piece on debt and friendship played.
I did a thing the other day that I haven’t done since childhood: I was in the middle of cooking, realized I was out of eggs, and asked a neighbor to borrow one. Thought about a piece Leah wrote on having small debts as a sign of wanting to maintain a friendship.As kids my mom would have us borrow a cup of sugar or a tablespoon of baking soda pretty frequently-almost always from elderly neighbors who lived alone. In retrospect I feel like it was my mom’s small way of saying, “we see you, you matter, thanks for being a gift to us.”
I did a thing the other day that I haven’t done since childhood: I was in the middle of cooking, realized I was out of eggs, and asked a neighbor to borrow one. Thought about a piece Leah wrote on having small debts as a sign of wanting to maintain a friendship.
As kids my mom would have us borrow a cup of sugar or a tablespoon of baking soda pretty frequently-almost always from elderly neighbors who lived alone. In retrospect I feel like it was my mom’s small way of saying, “we see you, you matter, thanks for being a gift to us.”
On my end, I think it’s asking a friend if my husband and I could sleep in her basement, rather than an airport hotel, so we could make a very early flight. It fell through (they’re going through the flu), but I was grateful to be able to ask.
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This is not an example of seeking help with something concrete, but over the last few days, I have been asking several male friends for advice on a personal challenge. I am left awash in gratitude for friends who are willing to share vulnerability and honesty, especially in the context of strong cultural pressure not to have such conversations as men. I have found that, just as I cannot possibly meet my sons’ childcare needs without help, I also cannot fulfill my vocations of husband and father to the best of my ability unless I have frequent, substantive opportunities to seek guidance and feedback. Spiritually speaking, I am as sick as my secrets, and I am grateful for friends who help me avoid having them.
Also, in the context of Other Feminisms, I think this frees up some of my wife’s emotional bandwidth, because she does not need to endure a version of me that stomps around the house carrying an unresolved frustration, nor does she have to step in as the dreaded wife/mom/therapist chimera that a lot of husbands force their wives to be.
I ask for help fairly frequently - I think it’s a natural consequence of having 3 young children and helpful neighbors. Most recently, I wanted to be able to attend our oldest’s parent-child night at preschool along with my husband, and after I failed to find a sitter by the day of I send out a last ditch email to my local community and had 4 offers to drop her off with various families for an hour. It’s a blessing to be able to give and receive that kind of help.
Last night I emailed my contact at a national organization to ask for a scholarship to their conference (value - $500+). This felt hard to do, but also was freeing for me.
It only made sense for me to ask. I am in a financially lean time, for reasons. I want to attend the conference, and was invited to attend, and I found it hard to justify the cost. It only made to ask if there is any financial help available.
Asking for help required me getting over a minor obstacle -- that no scholarships or anything like that have been advertised. This organization relies on hundreds of people like me paying for this conference. They're probably going to turn me down.
The bigger obstacle I had to get over was my "pride." There was specific programming in my mind that tells me I'm supposed to have my finances figured out well enough that I don't need to ask for help. I'm an elected official, and I feel vulnerable stating in public that I'm experiencing a lean time financially. I feel like a politician *should* project confidence and security -- not need.
But I try to be honest and forthcoming, and it doesn't help anyone to hide my true needs. And what does it hurt to ask? I decided a while ago that asking for what I need or what my constituents need is a necessary capability, and so I embraced it in this instance, despite my initial discomfort.
An example I like to give is asking my neighbor for a ride on a day that my car had a flat tire. I felt like I was putting her out. But she was delighted to have my company and for us to get to know each other better in the 25-minute drive. And you can bet I jumped at the chance to help the following weekend when she asked me to put her chickens in for the night.
Lots of people say they want to help but are hesitant to ask. I practice asking for help as often as I can so that these networks can be strengthened.
I recently asked our neighbors to pick up our CSA share because our whole household was sick. But I actually started off by asking if they wanted the produce. For me, at this point, it feels much more natural to offer a favor than to ask for one. Can we create a service to match people who need to practice helping with people who need to practice asking for help? Only half joking. 😅
“we see you, you matter, thanks for being a gift to us.” Such simple sincerity! Thank you
I spent my entire career until a few months ago working in medical social work, helping refugees who did not speak English get the medical care that they needed in America, making sure that their needs and concerns were communicated with their doctors and care providers. I recently decided to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain and found myself in a situation where the tables turned: I needed medical care in a country where I did not speak the language. Fortunately I met a fellow pilgrim at a hostel, an American living in Madrid, who speaks fluent Spanish and he helped me get to a pharmacy where he interpreted for me to make sure I got the medicine that I needed. It was interesting, to say the least, to be in the position of my refugee patients and to experience the helplessness of non-fluency in the language of the country you find yourself in. I found myself in tears thinking about how often this happens and how often it must be that people are unable to find the help they need when they need it.
I started thinking about the difference between asking for help at work vs. asking a friend or family member for it. Recently, having lost my voice due to laryngitis, I had to ask someone else to take on my task of taking calls (or making them). I felt awful having to ask - even though it was obvious I can't do this while I'm voiceless. But if reality demands it, why was I feeling so bad?
I think because of my perception of the other person's response, i.e., that this request was burdensome or annoying or an imposition.
I think other people will feel more or less free to ask for help depending on my/our disposition in receiving that request. Do we receive the request with respect and love, delighting in the opportunity to be of service to another? Or do I/we seem put out by another's need of me?
My mom died unexpectedly the day before I birthed my third child a few months ago. With 3 kids under 3 and a pile of grief to plow through, I’ve learned to lean into help: asking family and friends to grab a grocery item, pick up a prescription, help me take my kids to a park.
One of the blessings of this time is that those helping come into our home and become more intimately tied to our family life than they were before. With the loss of their grandma, my kids have inherited all her friends and siblings as involved family now.
I’ve also noticed how happy people get when I tell them thank you and add “because you brought dinner, I spent my extra time just holding my baby” or whatever I got to do.
Of course, these circumstances are extraordinary. Asking for help in normal circumstances is much more difficult for me because there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to not be autonomous... but should this be the case? And would others feel so happy to sacrifice their time and energy so I could hold my child if I wasn’t dealing with so much? I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure it would seem as important a task in typical motherhood. I’m actually (maybe cynically) wondering whether this grace period is going to end and the community/help for my young family dissolve. Do others decide when I’ve had enough help? How much help does a dead mom merit compared with a new baby? How do we decide how much help we are willing to give and receive, and what makes us worthy of help?
I asked for my parish's Fall Festival t-shirt that I bought to be delivered to the daughter of a friend who lives down the street. This friend's children go to the parish school and my kids do not. Then I didn't warn her I had made this request. She was *so excited* that we are the kinds of friends who don't need to warn each other when favors are incoming. :) <3
Reading this post at my older kid's gymnastics class, I was emboldened to ask for help just now.
My toddler fell asleep on the ride here and remained asleep in my arms, which had been getting tired of holding him. I asked the dad next to me, whom I don't know, if he could move the empty chair from his other side into a position where I could rest my feet on it. He was happy to, and I'm in a much more comfortable and sustainable position for holding my sleeping toddler now.
I think it is also important to stay interconnected as a society. To remember we do depend on each other and that none of us could do it all alone. While money makes the medium of exchange of labor easy and fast... it also makes it so impersonal that at times it can foster a false illusion of self-sufficiency which just doesn't exist in any modern society. Asking for help and/or borrowing little things from our neighbors not only increases daily contact and helps foster familiarity with our neighbors, friends, and family, it helps remind us of the reality of how most of the world really function, which is as a large, interconnected community. That uses specialization to optimize output so we all can have more material benefits and safety. We are long past the point where any significant part of the world lives as individuals or small family units out off the grid, thriving or dying on the land solely by the sweat of their own brow and creative efforts while at the dealing with the hazards of nature and chance. So it is good to remember that we actually do NEED our neighbors, friends, family and society in general to enjoy the life we currently live.
I have no idea who to ask for help, honestly. That's the problem.
So of course then there is the down side... I do a big charity project every year. This year due to health reasons I have fallen behind on it and the deadline is only a few weeks away. So for about the last 6 weeks I have been asking a lot of people for help. I have even started offering to pay a generous $10-15 an hour for some young people to come over and help me for just a couple of hours at a time. And so far mostly I have gotten a lot of "sure I will help" followed mostly by a lot of people then just not showing up at the time we agreed upon. So in addition to having sucked up my pride and basically started begging for help... I now have to deal with the disappointment of not getting it and being treated very discourteously several times as well. If you have to cancel... I understand. But just blowing a person off without even a phone call to let them know you are not coming is very disrespectful and disheartening. So asking for help is not a risk free endeavor. Not saying people shouldn't ask.... it is good for people to ask. But be ready to have it not work out sometimes... which isn't easy to deal with and can add to your burden.