Miss Keep-Your-Distance…” – Kelly Clarkson
When I found out I was having a girl, I resolved to raise her to be strong, independent, and resilient. I definitely didn’t want my daughter to be easily intimidated or afraid to do anything her peers try to do.
However, naïve, pre-child me didn’t realize the hard work of raising a strong, independent, resilient child doesn’t look like epic displays of public bravery or standing up to “The Man.” It looks like sitting with my toddler at the breakfast table for 20 minutes longer than I think is necessary because she’s meticulously, methodically peeling all sides of her banana, one by one, and learning its texture bite by bite. It looks like helping her sit on the potty for the sixth time in as many minutes because she thinks she has to go and we don’t want to discourage this new skill. It’s putting her shoes back on at the end of every single car ride because she’s fascinated by the sound of Velcro and proud of her ability to peel off her socks.
The efficient, working mom side of me wants to yell, “HURRY UP!” with a rolling hand motion for emphasis, every time she insists on putting on her backpack herself before school. Mama is late for work again! But when I say, “Let me help you!” and reach for the backpack, she yells “NO!” and pushes my hand away.
“Miss ‘If you wanna use that line, you better not start…’”
Even when the reward seems obvious, she refuses help: We lunched with her great-grandmother one day and finished the meal with ice cream. Perched in my lap, Grace had commandeered my spoon and was eagerly passing it between my bowl and her lips, though without much ice cream on the spoon. When I tried to guide her hand to scoop more ice cream, she pitched a fit. “NoOoO, Mommy!” she cried. “Mine!” I knew someday I would have to sit on the sidelines while my daughter works through a problem for herself. I didn’t think it would happen at age 1 over something so basic. Why couldn’t she just ask for help?
Aren’t we all sometimes hesitant to ask for help, though? We want to be Super Mom. We try to be everything for our kids and significant others by providing, managing and doing even if we’re not sure what we’re doing. We want to work (or we need to work) outside the home and be a good parent, and we don’t want to admit that it’s difficult to do both well. Being a capable individual is baked into our cultural ethos: In America, you pull yourself up by the bootstraps. You do your work, and if results don’t come to you naturally, you work harder instead of asking for help.
Last month, I breezily brushed off friends’ offers to contribute to a brunch I hosted, proudly thinking I could handle cooking and baking the entire spread myself. And I did, although in the process I spilled quiche batter all over the bottom of my oven, flooded my kitchen because I clogged my sink disposal with eggshells, and baked the coffee cake into the upper oven rack because I wasn’t familiar with the type of pan the recipe called for. Instead of seeking help by calling my mom, a friend or, I don’t know, Googling, I stupidly substituted another pan that turned out to be way too small and plowed ahead.
Thankfully, moms’ resistance to asking for help is changing because we’re realizing we can’t do it all, nor should we think we have to. We’re encouraged to share the physical, emotional and mental workload. We’re encouraged to take time out for self-care, whatever that may look like. But are we remembering to simply ask for help before we reach a breaking point? Do we even know how?
In search of a way to inspire better two-way dialogue with my toddler, I revisited our baby sign language book and looked up the sign for “help:” Make a fist with your dominant hand, place it in the open palm of your other hand, and move both hands up together. “Grace, do you want some help?” I asked while making the sign. She fixated on my hands as she considered. I could see wheels turning: These hands pick me up when I cry. They cut my food, bathe me, and do a lot of other things for me. Now, these hands are asking if I want help.
Not only did she start accepting my offers to help, but she quickly learned that asking for “hep” gets her what she wants with fewer frustrated tears and plenty of encouraging words. Through teaching my daughter how to ask for help, I’ve realized that I need to learn to ask for help when I need it, too. After admitting culinary defeat, I calmly asked my husband for help cleaning up our soggy kitchen, restoring the disposal, and salvaging the food. He stepped in without a word of reproach, and no one at the brunch guessed what a disaster the affair almost was.
True friends and family will help you when you need it, however, you need it and without judgment. They help because they love you something fierce and want you to succeed the way us moms want our children to succeed. When you practice accepting help from people who love you, you find that a different but equally valuable strength comes from interdependence. We moms don’t always have to be Miss Independents.
It’s awesome, in the true awe-inspiring meaning of that word, to see my daughter grow into her own independent person. She knows no strangers – while I jogged down the main neighborhood road one recent evening, Grace waved to every passing car from her stroller while shouting, “Happy new year!” as I puffed and giggled, and puffed from giggling. When she successfully puts away her books or tosses her stuffed animals into her crib by herself, she turns to me with a smile and says, “I did it!” Considering she wasn’t even walking on her own a year ago, processing and carrying out clean-up time really is something to be proud of – and we tell her what a good job she did so she knows we know she can do it, but we still have her back.
Our girl has shown me that having the humility to ask for and receive help is part of being strong and resilient, too. Knowing when and how to ask for help is a life skill, no matter our age. I want my daughter to be strong for herself and others. Sometimes, that means giving help but sometimes it means asking for help. Now, when I see her struggling, I ask if she needs help, and we practice giving and receiving help. She understands the words now, but I still like to make the sign to reinforce that as her mom I’m here to help, and I always will be.