In my groups and 1:1 client work, there’s one theme that comes up again and again.
How hard it is to ask for help.
And, I get it!
I remember stuffing my needs down until the resentment boiled over. I wouldn’t ask for help until I was totally burnt out, exhausted or sick. I didn’t want to burden others. I was also afraid that if I asked for help, I would need to acknowledge my overwhelm – and in so doing, I thought, acknowledge that I was weak and unable to cope on my own. Looking around it seemed that everyone else was managing ok, so I assumed there must be something wrong with me as I was finding parenting my two young kids so damn hard.
In the context of my life and the context I’ve grown up in, it makes sense. I’ve always been fiercely independent and validated for being so. I’ve always prided myself on my capacity to cope even in the toughest of circumstances. That was until I became a mother – when the responsibilities and expectations finally consumed me, and in the process created the internal shift necessary to begin learning how to truly ask for help – and receive it.
If asking for help doesn’t come easy for you either, know you’re not alone.
There are many reasons why you might find it difficult to ask for help, some of which I’ve summarised below.
Depending on the way your brain and body work, understanding that you need help in the first place can be challenging. If your interoception (your capacity to track your internal experience) isn’t crash hot, or you’re just busy attending to external things all the time, it can be really challenging to sense when you are building up to burnout.
And when you get there, what your needs even are.
When you’re sleep deprived, exhausted, and operating in survival mode, working out what your needs are and contemplating delegating those needs can actually ADD to your mental load. In this stage, it can feel easier just to keep on going.
Acknowledging that you need help may open the floodgates of unprocessed feelings that you simply don’t feel you have time to process – and so sometimes remaining in a state of caffeinated survival is simply the best you can do. You may feel like everyone else has it together (they don’t) or that you should be able to meet all your child’s needs (you can’t), which may exacerbate feelings of shame and isolation and prevent you from reaching out for support.
You’ve also been conditioned to believe that a good mother doesn’t have needs. Look around at the versions of motherhood that are upheld as successful and see to what extent you are judging yourself against them. These one-dimensional depictions of motherhood are characterised by martyrdom, self-sacrifice, and a capacity to ‘do it all’ all while looking blissfully content. It’s an impossible standard that we simply cannot meet, no matter how hard we try.
Many of us grew up being parented in ways that celebrated independence, promoted emotional suppression and shamed any expressions of being ‘needy’.
In fact, as human beings our very survival is inter-dependent on other humans.
Raising kids was meant to be done in community – we were simply never meant to meet all the emotional, physical and mental needs of our children whilst also trying to grow and learn ourselves, develop rich relationships and survive economically.
Lastly, one of the big reasons we don’t ask for help is because many of us believe that we are simply not worthy of receiving support. Especially as young girls, we internalise the message that our needs come last, or else we’re accused of being selfish or self-absorbed.
Every person is worthy of support, care and love – in the good times and the tough times. You don’t need to wait until you’re in crisis to receive these things and asking for help is actually the opposite of weakness. There are no prizes for pushing through and doing it all alone, particularly while your mental and physical health is suffering.
If our children see us pushing our needs down and putting everyone else first, this is what they learn about the role of ‘mother’. This isn’t the belief system I want my children growing up with.
So – how to work through this particularly tricky aspect of motherhood?
- Unpack your own social conditioning and childhood imprints around what it means to ask for help. Bring awareness to some of the stories you’re telling yourself about giving and receiving help and look for evidence as to why there might be another truth out there.
- Identify what your needs are. Then determine which ones you can meet yourself and which needs can be met by other people. Notice which ones are fixed and which ones change depending on your capacity, menstrual cycle, parenting stage or other things in your environment.
- Identify who you could ask for help from. If there’s no-one you feel comfortable asking yet, get curious about who you might be able to develop relationships with that could potentially lead to a mutual source of support. You don’t need to go out and find a million new friends (because that’s exhausting), but rather start to look for what resources might already exist in your community and go from there. For example, if you live in Warragul, you might like to join my Meals for Mums group.
- Acknowledge the importance of role modelling. If people see you asking for help, this gives them permission to do the same. Develop friendships built on vulnerability and openness where there is a sense it is OK to offer support in ways that work for you (your strengths) and where you can ask others for help in ways that affirm their own strengths. For example, you may not love looking after others’ kids because it’s too noisy but this might be someone else’s jam, yet they don’t love cooking, and you do.
- Remember that generally, people love to help – it feels good! Especially if they have autonomy and choice in the matter and where relationships are built reciprocally over time.
What I want you to take away from reading this is that it is so hard to ask for help because we’ve been conditioned out of recognising that we have needs at all.
When you can recognise that you have needs (and that having needs is normal, healthy and ok) and you can identify what your needs are, then you can take action from there towards getting those needs met.
When you do ask for help, celebrate – you’re breaking the generational cycle of self-sacrificial motherhood where for generations, mothers’ needs have been at the bottom of the priority list. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
I want to be part of raising a generation of kids that can build healthy relationships fostered through self-awareness and reciprocal interdependence. To do this I’ve had to get much better at asking for help, and it has honestly been a joy seeing everyone reap the benefits of this. Ultimately, I want my kids to grow up with the internalised knowing that their needs matter and that a mother’s job is not to put everyone else’s needs before her own.
If this is something you would like support to work through, you may be interested in booking a 1:1 village building session with me, where together we can unpack your social conditioning and explore your child imprints around asking for help and get creative about what asking for help might look like for you. It would be an honour to support you!