When you’re a single parent, it can be hard to get everything done. What can be harder is asking for help when you need it – and accepting it when it’s offered.
I try to avoid asking for help because I don’t want people to feel that they have to help. I don’t want to be a burden, and I don’t want people to see my name on their phones and think, “ugh, what does she want now!” When I was younger my mum would get friends and neighbours to help her with everything and I was mortified; it was as if she just expected people do things for her and I felt that the parents who ended up ferrying me to and from birthday parties or band practices must be sick of the sight of me.
I’ve never liked to ask for help, and being a single parent made me less inclined to ask; I didn’t want to be the “typical” single parent who can’t cope with raising a child alone. The only people I didn’t feel too bad about asking for help was my family – ironic since they’re the ones least likely to help. When my mother happens to call me on a day when S is ill, it doesn’t occur to her to ask if I need anything. I don’t think she’s ever done that, and on the rare occasion I’ve asked her for help – say, staying with S for half an hour while I run to the shop for medicine or other supplies, she has invariably said no – she’s too ill or too busy. This has made me less inclined to ask others. After all, if my own mother is unwilling to help, why should others want to?
But others do want to help, and it’s taken me a while to understand that they do – and why they do.
A few years ago my TV broke and a friend offered to buy me a new one. I was completely gobsmacked; who even does that?! He told me he had unexpectedly received more money than expected for something, and would like to buy me a TV. Let me do this, he said. It was strange. Allow someone to buy me a TV?
I have since learned that actually, helping someone can make you feel good. When you’re feeling depressed, one thing that can really help to lift your mood is to help someone else. So perhaps when I ask someone for help, it’s helping them too.
Here are a few ways to ask for/accept help without feeling guilty or like a massive failure/burden to those around you.
- Make it a trade. If you need someone to collect your child from school tomorrow, could you take their child to school with you? I feel less guilty about asking for help if I know I’ve been of help to someone else.
- Build up goodwill. Asking for help doesn’t need to be a direct trade off. If you know you’ve done several things for someone in the past, you won’t feel so bad about asking for help when you need it. That doesn’t mean you keep a running tally of every good deed you’ve done, but if you know you usually accept parcels for a neighbour who isn’t home during the day, you won’t feel so bad when they end up taking in one of yours.
- Remember that people like to help. Asking for help is not a weakness, and nobody expects you to be perfect. Many two-parent families also rely heavily on help from grandparents, friends and neighbours – so why shouldn’t you ask for help from time to time. The world won’t end if you ask and I don’t know many people who would say no without at least being pleasant about it.
- Remember that something that’s a massive help to you might be only a minor inconvenience to someone else. S does after school club on a Tuesday with a friend, and the friend’s mum drives her home afterwards. This gives me an extra 90 minutes of time to work, and means that I have one day per week when I can arrange for deliveries to come and I know I’ll be home. But for my friend it’s only another seatbelt to do up, and a slight detour on her way home. It took me ages to realise that she honestly doesn’t mind!
- Consider which is better for your child. If you’re struggling along on your own because you’re too proud or guilty to ask for any help, does that set a good example? And is it the best situation for your child to have a parent who is stressed, run down and fed up? If you think of it in terms of asking someone to help your child rather than helping you, it becomes easier to ask for help.
- Help other people. Even if there’s no chance they could ever do anything to help you! Helping other people will make you feel good, and help you to realise that perhaps this is how other people might feel when they help you.
- Ask different people. If you only ever ask the same person for help, they may well get fed up in the end, and feel that you rely on them too much. Make a list of the people you could ask for help, and try to ask a different one each time.
- Say “thank you.” It sounds silly but often when we help someone, a simple “thank you” is all we need in return. If we help someone and we’re not thanked, we don’t feel inclined to help them again – whereas if someone says thanks, we often say “oh, don’t worry about it!”
- Start small. If you really can’t bear the thought of asking for help, start small and see how you go. Can you ask for a lift to the shop, or something similar? Asking for help gets easier the more we do it so just keep at it!
I still find it hard to ask for or accept help. As a single parent I feel that my lack of a partner should not become someone else’s responsibility or burden. But over time I have learned that when someone offers help it’s because they want to. And sometimes, when you ask for help the person has been waiting for the opportunity to help you.