I’ve worked with a few families over the years who have told me they waited a year to finally call me and ask for support. When I asked them why it had taken them so long to pick up the phone, they said family life had finally gotten really challenging. It made me wonder: Why do we wait to ask for help?
Parenting feels especially hard for many of us right now. The world has become a more and more complicated landscape in which to raise children. In normal times, let alone during a pandemic, so many aspects of parenting — managing the household, child care, scheduling, work, various behaviors and everyone’s emotions — can be psychologically exhausting.
Yet we don’t ask for help.
Very few of us come into raising children with a degree in psychology or child development. All we know is that our kids refuse to get into the car and we’ve got an 8 o’clock meeting we have to get to and we’ll do whatever it takes to get them buckled in so we can get to work on time. And often that involves a tactic that leaves us feeling undermined, angry, exhausted or just plain sad.
Why is it we don’t ask for help?
We believe we’re supposed to know what to do. We feel like failures if there are challenges in our family lives that we don’t know how to manage. Parents have been raising children for generations — shouldn’t this come naturally to us?
Yet parenting is complicated — and it’s messy. As we seek to prepare our children to enter this increasingly complicated world, and as we continue to understand the neuroscience of the developing brain, parenting roles and ideas have shifted. We were given a manual to learn how to drive, but no one handed out the manual telling us how to calmly remove the digital device from our screaming 6-year-old or coax our angry teen into spending time with us. Our children’s behaviors can seem irrational and can trigger strong reactions, and we are inundated by often conflicting advice from every angle. It is normal to not know how to respond in every situation.
We don’t feel we can carve out the time. Life is busy. Sometimes we don’t feel like we have an extra second for anything. We don’t have the time to intentionally work out solutions with our children or attend a parenting class because we are frantically trying to take care of everything else, put out fires and keep the peace.
Yet sometimes taking a step back to get help with new strategies and ways of responding, creating routines and systems with our children or taking time to problem solve issues in relationships, can actually save time in the long run, bring a lighter atmosphere into the home and prevent some of the fires from igniting in the first place.
Sometimes it takes a shifting of priorities: Perhaps let go of the condition of the house or have cereal for dinner so you can take a walk with a trusted friend or create a workable morning routine with your children.
We live in a society that prides itself on self-sufficiency and independence. As such, asking for help is perceived as a weakness. As in other aspects of our lives we believe that if we just work harder, plan more and do the background research, we can be successful and well respected.
“Yet,” an article on HuffPost says, “when self-sufficiency is taken to the extreme, the burden of too much responsibility can cause stress, unrealistic expectations, lack of self acceptance and no acknowledgment of personal needs ... and in our society the bar continually gets higher and the risk of burnout is huge.”
This belief that we should be able solve our problems on our own leads us to pushing off asking for help until the point where we are really suffering.
If you are struggling — or even if you’re not, but feel like some fine tuning could help — but are afraid to reach out, try using author Peggy Collins “ACT Formula”:
A: What are you afraid of? What is preventing you from asking for help? Fear of rejection? Appearing vulnerable? Surrender of power?
C: Let go of feeling you have to control everything. Asking for help can feel like giving up control.
T: Learn to trust yourself enough to reach out and take a chance that you can trust someone else.
What does help look like?
It can come in different forms. Figure out what works for you and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Find a community of parents to talk to. Ask a friend to swap child care so you can take care of yourself. Talk to your partner about balancing the family workload. Seek support for working through your children’s pesky behaviors that are making parenting no longer fun for you.
Don’t wait until daily life finally feels unbearable. You don’t need to suffer through challenged family dynamics. Asking for parenting support in no way means you are a bad parent — rather the contrary — it means you care enough to take the time to work on things that don’t feel right. The well-being of your children and the quality of your family life are important. You and your children will benefit. Time is precious with our children, and so are you!