In February, my wife and I became parents as we welcomed twin boys into this world. Becoming a parent has been a humbling and exciting yet challenging experience. Given that my wife and I did not have any children before the arrival of our sons, in the past two months we’ve had to learn how to change diapers, feed our babies, differentiate between baby cries, and swaddle them so they can be soothed enough to fall asleep. Additionally, we have had to learn how to manage our schedule and endure the effects of sleep deprivation that all new parents experience. And while this may resonate for those of you who’ve been through this process with a newborn, imagine going through this experience with two newborns at the same time! (Parents of triplets or more – you must be superheroes!)
However, one thing which I have learned in these past eight weeks as a new parent is the importance of asking for help: not just when we become new parents, but whenever we find ourselves struggling with a change or challenge in our lives and recognize that we can’t do everything on our own. Unfortunately, however, asking for help is hard for many of us to do – myself included.
Nora Bouchard, author of the book Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need, says that asking for help often makes people feel uneasy because it requires us to surrender control.
Additionally, we hesitate to ask for help because we fear seeming too needy. “We don’t want to be ashamed of our situation, or come across as incompetent,” she shared during a 2020 interview with CNBC.
While my wife and I do not have any family that lives locally, we’ve been fortunate enough to have family occasionally visit us; we also have neighbors and church members who have been able to help us a few days a week. Still, for the first few weeks, I struggled when I was taking care of our sons to wake my wife or my visiting mother-in-law for help, out of fear of inconveniencing them when I needed help soothing our fussy babies.
Yet, the demands of our two infant sons taught me the importance of realizing that when most people volunteer to help you, they do so out of the goodness of their hearts, and that one should not hesitate in accepting or even asking others for help when they are struggling.
For my wife and I, asking for help as we adjust to becoming parents has been critical to get through these challenging first few months of our babies’ lives. But there are other reasons why individuals and families need the support during challenging times. It could be following surgery, during a stressful transition such as a divorce, or around the loss of a loved one that people may need the help of others. In my work as a hospital chaplain, one of the things I ask families after they have lost a loved one is, “whom can you call that can meet you at home to support you?”
The reasons we may need support vary just like the tasks we need help with which may range from asking someone to get our groceries, care for a pet, or just have someone stay with us if we need emotional support. But whatever the task or reason may be, there are some important details to remember.
First, what tasks are most beneficial for someone to help you with?
While my wife and I are appreciative of any task that those volunteers offer to do, we’ve learned specific tasks such as cleaning our constantly overflowing sink of dirty baby bottles, folding the never-ending pile of baby clothes in our living room, or simply feeding and holding our babies are most helpful to have volunteers do for us. As I remind our volunteers, while these may seem like simple tasks to them, they are most meaningful to us as it allows us to do other things we haven’t been able to do such as taking a shower or a quick nap.
Second, which family, friends, or neighbors would be best suited for which tasks?
One of the things my wife has helped me see is that people like to offer support in their own way. Is there a specific person who loves to cook who can make you a meal? Or is there someone who is a master at soothing newborns to sleep? While people will generally volunteer for tasks they know they feel comfortable doing, it’s also wise to task those who have special gifts to accomplish certain tasks.
Third, how many social circles and our communities can you put the word out that you need help?
While I am not as well connected in the community where I live, my wife is and knows a lot of people from church, exercise classes, and other community functions and small town connections since she’s lived here. These individuals have been gracious enough to bring warm meals, pick up groceries, and even help us feed, burp, and change our boys’ diapers (over and over!).
Finally, in what ways can you show appreciation for those who are offering to help you?
While volunteers may not accept cash, some may accept a gift card or other personalized gifts which allow us show our appreciation for their help. Additionally, one thing I also do is to take the time to write a handwritten card expressing my appreciation to those who have supported us in some way with our babies.
Additionally, while we may feel like we are inconveniencing others by asking for help, studies have shown people feel happier when they can help others in need. Think about all the times you have taken time to volunteer to help a friend, neighbor, or family member with your time and how it made you feel. For the most part, if someone is taking time to help you, they are finding fulfillment and purpose in doing so.
“Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm,” Audrey Hepburn once said. “As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
Whatever the particular reason you may find yourself needing to ask someone for help, it’s important to be reminded that while it may be hard to accept (or seek) help from others, it’s even harder to do tasks all on our own. For me, this was something that I have learned through firsthand experience these past eight weeks. But I have also learned that asking for help has allowed me to see that even in times of challenge, there still are so many caring and compassionate people in our lives and in our communities.