I had a conversation with another mom today that I have had a version of many times before. Too many to count. You talk about the types of things you do with your little one(s), maybe. You throw in some honest struggles you have as a parent. Maybe it’s flippant or more sincere. There’s a good chance you reveal something extremely personal, sometimes without ever knowing the other person’s name. I think most of us have lost our filters at this point. Ideally, you get some feeling of camaraderie and possibly walk away with some inside parenting scoop. I have had some beautiful emotional moments with other mums I likely will never see again and that ability between women can be absolutely profound.
Sometimes these often very brief moments have the power to make you feel heard, seen, accepted. It doesn’t take much, just a knowing look can have this affect. And then—just like that—you’re a little less lonely.
If you’re anything like me, you may pick up on a lot from a quick exchange with another person. Sometimes it’s specific, other times it’s just a vibe that lingers. Usually it’s positive so you get a little pick-me-up. Once in a while, however, I can be a bit knocked over by an off or negative moment with another parent. I mean of course this can happen with any person you see or interact with, but I find with other parents it can be particularly loaded. All the junk we carry around is suddenly directed at this extremely personal, vulnerable business of raising another human.
So this brings me back to the exchange I had today. I was at the Y with Finn and ran into another mum I’ve seen there a few times with her son. We started chatting while the boys played around us. Her opening with, “you look tired.” This did not bode well. Abort abort! But I didn’t, did I? So we started chatting about routines, activities, some typical mum-to-mum small talk. I mentioned my Mother-in-law watches Finn on Mondays. Her response? “Well we don’t have ANY help (cue bitter laughter). I just have a nanny who comes 10 hours a week.” I guess she meant help from family? “Free” help.
The comment set my alarm off. I didn’t know I was stepping into a “who has it harder?” match. Nothing makes me concede faster than this game. It was a sneaky sneak attack. I know this wasn’t about me, but I also totally ignored my instincts to exit stage left at an earlier opportunity.
This whole battle for who has it hardest is not a new one. I feel like it comes up a lot once you become a parent. It can be helpful and humbling. Many many people have it far far harder than me. There is no question. It’s valuable to have your privileges checked and listen to another perspective, learn, grow. This is not that.
I’m also not talking about just discussing tough shit in your life. Share share share. Unburden. Find someone you trust and open up.
No no. I’m talking about punishing others when you perceive they have something you lack.
So I just conceded that, yes, I’m lucky to have some help from family. Absolutely true and something I appreciate more all the time. It’s a good reminder to practise some sincere gratitude. However, it clearly struck a chord with me or I wouldn’t be writing this here post.
And here’s why. It is hard to ask for help–so fucking hard–and often harder still to accept that you can’t control what that help looks like. It was a huge learning curve I went through since day one of motherhood. Most of us struggle with it on some level. So yes I have help from family, but while financially free I wouldn’t say it has no cost. I need that help, it’s important for my kids too and I don’t think I’d turn down a little more because parenting is fucking tough.
I just never ever want to make another woman feel like the help she receives is in any way a sign she “has it easy.” Yes let’s make her life a little easier please! What’s so bad about that? There’s a reason you have that nanny, babysitter, whatever and that’s between you and your family. It’s sort of a low-key mission I’m on. We all have our shit. No matter your story though, it really does take a village. It takes strength to ask for help. Good for you!
I don’t want to dump on this person either. I’ve had these exchanges with many other people over the years, all of them expressing their own fears and insecurities through comments like this one. It’s clear to me that this particular mama doesn’t get all the help she needs and I hope she can find a way to get it somehow. It’s ok that 10 hours is not enough. Honestly, I think most of us could use a little more than we are getting. And for all I know, she could just be having a bad day. Who knows?
I guess I just wanted to use it as a jumping off point to encourage everyone out there. To say, you do you, damn it. I had to carve out time in little moments such as this one to find myself again after becoming a mum. Writing while Finn naps, lighting a candle and closing my eyes to breath. Putting boundaries where I can manage them. It’s an ongoing, never-ending education. Finding community in a brief exchange with a stranger. Finding something for yourself on the edges of the day when you have no other options. Maybe the actual help from another person isn’t available right now, so you take it however you can.
On this Mother’s Day my greatest wish for you and every mama out there is the strength to ask for and accept the help you need. The grace to encourage each other to do the same and celebrate when they do. And the power to stop apologizing for it. You deserve it.