“The more anxious we are, the more high-functioning we will make ourselves appear, which just encourages the world to lean on us more.” – Sarah Wilson
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Mama, you don’t have to do it alone. I know you’ve probably been fed a steady diet of American culture your entire life. You’ve been taught to value independence, hard work, self-sufficiency, and stick-to-it-iveness. If you happen to be a Texan like me, you were brainwashed at an early age to respect those who don’t aren’t dependent upon others to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get shit done.
But, Mama, what if I told you that’s all an impossibility? What if I told you that, while life does call on us to dig deep and be our own heroes from time to time, it’s often the grace of receiving that truly pulls us through.
It is hard to receive, so hard to accept help when it’s offered, much less dare to ask for it ourselves. So many of us would prefer to struggle under our burdens with forced smiles rather than to accept assistance when it is offered.
Because accepting help is admitting lack. Admitting lack. Everything in me recoils at the thought of that, of admitting that I’m lacking. There it is again, the culture rooted deep telling me that I’m supposed to have it together. I’m supposed to have it in me to be self-sufficient. I’m supposed to have, not lack.
But, Mama, we do lack. We do and that’s okay. The illusion of doing it all, juggling all the things, being self-sufficient, above all not being needy, it’s all a lie. It’s all an impossibility designed to alienate and isolate us.
I think it’s difficult to receive for a number of reasons. I struggle with it quite a lot, that feeling of shame for needing and lacking. But I think that receiving well pushes us out of our comfort zone beautifully. It’s hard to admit that we’re lacking in any way, and yet I don’t believe that “lack” has the power to change anything about our personal value or our identity, not in the way our culture would have us believe. Friend, the amount we do, the things we accomplish, the items we tick off our to-do lists, the amount of laundry folded (not put away, let’s not go completely crazy here), none of that truly speaks of our value as people. And more than just people, our ability to achieve or the fact that we lack bears no reflection of our worthiness as human beings carrying souls inherently anointed with dignity.
Obviously, I’m asking you to swim against the current. I’m asking you to reach out in a world that shames you for needing. But, Mama, I think we can both agree that we’d like to raise children who are able to ask for help when they need it. We want our kids to reach out to us when they need something, whether that’s demanding another trip to the bathroom (during which they’ll tell us to leave), or to help navigate middle-grade friendships, or to ask our advice on how to soothe their new babies so their wives can rest. If we want to raise these people, we have to be these people ourselves.
Receiving well requires humility. We have to be okay with our own lacking. We have to own our story and be willing to be vulnerable (for more on that, go read all the Brene Brown you can). And there’s always the argument that allowing people to help us is a blessing to them. Receiving big things from others is an opportunity to allow others to practice charity, something sorely needed in our communities. If someone offers something to you, whether its a small thing like a meal or something of more monetary value like an expensive stroller or a flight to visit your family, they’ve offered that thing because they wanted to, because they love you. The people in your life want to bless you. They really do or they wouldn’t offer.
All of this rambling to say, Mama you do not have to do this alone. You are allowed to want and need help. Hiring a postpartum doula or a housekeeper is not admitting defeat, it’s practicing good self care and allowing another person to provide for her own family, which is an amazing gift in and of itself. Using formula instead of breastfeeding is not “taking the easy way,” it’s choosing the right path for your baby and body. Texting a friend with the hard, harsh, honest truth about how you’re feeling is not being needy, it’s finding support when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Seeing a mental health professional is not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of strength.
Mama, you don’t have to do any of this on your own. You may be lacking, but it is our lack that makes us beautifully real. Our lack is not a deficit, but an opportunity. If you’re struggling to receive, don’t make snap judgements. When you’re offered something (a gift of time, money, assistance, etc) take a moment to think through why you’re inclined to turn it down. Is it because of shame? Shut that liar up. Is it because you feel like an inconvenience? Remember that people wouldn’t offer unless they truly wanted to give the gift. Is it because it genuinely wouldn’t be a help? Respectfully decline and feel free to be vulnerable and tell that person what would actually be helpful.
Are you turning down help because you don’t feel worthy? Mama, you are worthy. You are so worthy of time and love and acceptance and rest. Be gentle with yourself. You were not made to do it all. You were not made to transform into a doormat, beaten down, and weary from your vocation. You were, however, made for community. You were made for friendship and sisterhood. You were made to give and receive help. You just have to open yourself up to it.
I have four kids. They’re 7, 5, 4, and 2. The middle two are sixteen months apart, while the third and fourth are separated by twenty-one months. (Let’s hear it for efficiency!) We get a lot of comments, but the most common one I get is, “I don’t know how you do it.”
This is usually partnered with some sort of comparison in which the speaker judges her own situation as “less difficult” than mine. As in, “I only have one (or two or three) kids. I can’t imagine having four!” Or, “I can barely handle my two kids, so four would be impossible for me!” You’d be surprised (but probably not) to hear how self deprecating the mom crowd is, constantly berating themselves for not handling their own lives “better” as compared to how someone else is doing. It’s simultaneously complimentary of the mama with the full hands and heart, but judgmental of self. “You’re doing so much, so well! I’m failing at the comparatively little I have.”
I hear it a lot, y’all, most recently from a friend of mine:
“I think you’re amazing. Whenever I have a hard time with my one, I feel humbled by your four.”
And here’s my response to that: Don’t be humbled by me, friends. Please don’t. Please.
There’s this line in Man’s Search for Meaning, in which Viktor Frankl says that suffering fills the soul like gas fills a chamber. It doesn’t matter how much gas you put in a chamber, it always expands to fill up the entire space. Now, hopefully, being a mother isn’t the same as living in a state of actual suffering, but I think the point remains the same. It doesn’t matter how many or how few children you have, whether your work lies inside or outside the home, or with what apparent ease you parent in public. The struggle always expands to fill the entire space of your heart. This gig ain’t easy. Period.
So, mamas can we please stop comparing? Please? I completely understand trying to size up how we’re doing because I am a constant affirmation seeker myself. But at some point we have to learn, and I mean really learn, that there’s no right way to do all this. Every mother is different, every child uniquely needy and quirky, every family fueled by different goals and values and dreams, plagued by different demons and frustrations. There is no standard measuring stick to tell us we’ve made it.
And while we’re at it, can we stop saying we’re “just” anything? Like, stop saying you have “just” one kid, or you’re “just” a stay at home mom, or the dinner you fed your kids after working a full day at a demanding job is “just” McDonald’s. “Just” sucks. It just does.
Y’all, I can think of about a million reasons that having one kid is “harder” than having four. You’re their sole entertainment, comfort, lifeguard, everything. That. Is. Exhausting.
I can think of about a million reasons that being a working mom is “harder” than staying home. You’re constantly running, planning, juggling, and I guarantee you probably struggle when you have to say no to work or kids. Constantly balancing is exhausting.
I can think of about a million reasons that being a stay at home mom is “harder” than working out of the home. You don’t get tangible return on your work, there aren’t ever finished projects, you’re never alone but always lonely. It’s exhausting.
I can think of a million reasons that having four kids is “harder” than having one. Socks. There are never enough effing socks and sock hunting is exhausting.
I am not a hero or supernaturally able to handle “more” because I have four kids. We’re all handling the huge load we’ve been given and amounts don’t matter because every load is heavy as hell. I’ve been saying this and repeating it for years and I still suck at doing it myself, so I’m going to keep preaching…to you, to me, to anyone who will listen: Give yourself grace. Show yourself mercy. Encourage and lift up that mom of six you see navigating life like a goddess! You should absolutely be in awe of her! But don’t be in awe of her at the expense of your own heart. Don’t forget to love yourself, mama. Please don’t. Because I guarantee that you’re doing so much better than you think. So, so much better.