We all know that we could use a little help from our friends. But many parents feel isolated and unsupported, with few sources of aid in their time of need.
In many areas of North America, a pervasive focus on independence and autonomy means that even when support is available, parents don’t access these resources. As a result, they end up feeling alone and overwhelmed.
In a worldwide study of parents in 42 countries, researchers noted that parents in individualist countries were less likely to ask for help than parents in collectivist cultures where interdependence and connection are the norm.
In cultures where asking for and receiving help is a daily occurrence, parents experience less burnout and more pleasure in their parenting role.
This comparison underlines the importance of reaching out for help — and why it may be the single most valuable advice for new parents you can hear. But if we know that receiving help would benefit us and our families, why is it so hard to accept?
Advice for New Parents: It’s Ok to Ask for Help
One barrier to receiving the help you need is feeling overwhelmed. Well-meaning family or friends often quip, “If you need anything, let me know.” But some parents are so overwhelmed with all the things they need that they find it near impossible to voice those needs.
These parents need time to heal, more sleep, nourishing meals, a break from parenting duty, support with feeding…the list is endless.
If you do some planning while you are still pregnant, you can create a list of things you anticipate needing, as well as a list of people in your life that would be willing to lend a hand.
Being proactive before the chaos of postpartum gives parents a chance to more clearly consider the help they will need, and the planning process offers some relief from prenatal anxiety.
Advice for New Parents: It’s Ok to Let Go of Control
Another reason you may find accepting help to be hard is that you might have specific ideas about how things should be done, and accepting that help would mean allowing tasks to be done someone else’s way.
If the way your mother-in-law folds towels drives you nuts, or your helpful neighbor buys you the wrong kind of yogurt, it might be hard to let go and embrace help.
This may also result in guilt from feeling ungrateful when others try their best to meet your needs but then fall short.
Understandably, exerting control over things that seem insignificant brings down your anxiety levels — the more you control, the less anxiety you experience. Reduced anxiety is a powerful motivator to keep doing all the things yourself.
To counter this one, practice noticing when your need for control arises. If you don’t control this minor thing, will a major catastrophe befall you? Probably not.
Practicing relinquishing control, little by little, will increase your comfort level with allowing others to help, and it may remind you that it feels good to be taken care of.
Advice for New Parents: You Don’t Need to Do It All On Your Own
Perhaps you pride yourself on your autonomy, and checking all the things off your To-Do list provides a sense of accomplishment.
Some folks even equate asking for help with weakness, so accepting help when it is offered stirs up uncomfortable emotions.
However, as Shelley Kemmerer of Run Tell Mom attests, doing it all yourself is the fastest way to parental burnout.
Parental burnout describes the chronic stress that parents experience when they feel depleted from the daily load of childcare tasks. While parenting is often rewarding, when extra stressors add to the daily grind, burnout occurs.
As Run Tell Mom reminds us, the more parents access helpful resources, the less they will become burnt out.
Advice for New Parents: Don’t Worry About Reciprocation
Accepting help might also be hard if you perceive yourself as a helpful person, and you take pride in helping others. Your identity becomes wrapped up in your helpfulness, and you feel guilty when you accept help but are unable to reciprocate it.
Offering help in return is simply not an option when parents are in their first stages of parenthood. New parents are consumed with learning to care for their infant, so an insistence on self-reliance and reciprocity can create an unsustainable situation.
Connecting with other parents who are experiencing similar struggles can be helpful for these parents. Postpartum Support International runs a variety of online support groups that encourage connection over shared parenting experiences.
Participating in a support group offers a sense of simultaneous giving and taking, as you offer support to other parents while also receiving it.
Advice for New Parents: We All Need Help
Whether you feel comfortable accepting help or not, finding a way to overcome the challenge of accepting help will make your parenting journey easier.
Receiving reliable help will not only help with functioning day to day as a parent, but will promote your sense of wellbeing.
For some, it will be the difference between sinking or swimming as a parent.
No matter your cultural identity or personal beliefs, having help supports you, your partner, and your child and leads to a more fulfilling family experience and improved mental wellness.
So take on the challenge of accepting help in parenthood. You can do it!
Image credit: Robert Collins.