Friday, July 1, 2011

Asking For and Accepting Support

I am currently reading The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide to Your Emotional Well-Being During Pregnancy and Early MotherhoodI’m not very far into it and I’m not sure how helpful it’s been to me (partially because the predominant feeling I’ve been experiencing since I found out I was pregnant is happiness, and I haven’t had much of the emotional discomfort and confusion that the author aims at comforting - at least not yet).  However, the last chapter I read really struck a cord with me: “How to Gracefully Ask For and Accept Support.” 

This really has nothing to do with pregnancy, I’ve always had a terrible time asking for and accepting help, much less “gracefully”.  When I sit down and rationalize through it, it doesn’t make much sense.  When others ask me for help, I’m happy to give it.  In fact, I’m often honored that others would ask me to help, because it means that they trust me enough to get something done, that they value my skills, etc.  For most people, doing something nice for others is a blessing.  When I don’t allow others the opportunity to help, not only am I making things much harder on myself, but I’m denying others the benefits of helping me.  I know that makes sense, but doesn’t that just sound so self-absorbed: “I am being charitable by allowing others to help me”? 

I’m sure all of us have had experiences with people who constantly asked for help and never returned it.  These experiences leave you feeling used and perhaps even wary of helping others in the future.  But I think they also have the potential to affect your ability to ask for and accept support from others.  I am afraid of making others feel used or taking advantage of their hospitality.  But I’m forgetting a very important thing, when I ask for help - if someone can’t or doesn’t want to help me, he or she can say no!  And if they offer support, they are only doing so because they are able and willing to provide it.  

As I started thinking about this, my mind kept wandering to a recent interaction with a certain friend of mine.  We had been very close for years, and then suddenly, a few years ago, she had all but disappeared from my life.  We still talked on the phone one in a while, but something was missing.  She is a single mother, and up until that point, I had spent a lot of time with her and her daughter.  It was very hurtful and I eventually asked her about it.  Her response was that as a single mother she felt that she needed to “go it alone”, that she didn’t want to have to rely on help from other people because she needed to know that she would be able to take care of her daughter herself.  She said that she didn’t even want emotional support from others.  While I respected her feelings, hearing that was very hurtful to me for a reason I didn’t quite understand at the time.  Now I believe it was so painful because friendships need to be a balance of give and take. She still wanted to be there for me, to help me when I needed it, but I was inherently uncomfortable to only take from a relationship and not be able to give.  I have a need to care for and help others, a need I believe that all people have, and she was denying me the ability to help her.  Because I care deeply for her, I’ve tried the keep the friendship up as best as possible, but I hope that someday things will change and for both our sakes, she will feel comfortable accepting my support again. 

I think that my generation has a hard time developing true and lasting friendships (a common complaint I’ve heard among my friends and peers).  Perhaps that is because we are urged to be independent and self-sufficient from a young age.  By accepting help, many of us feel that we are admitting that we are weak or incapable.  But trust and intimacy is formed through give and take relationships with others.  In a few weeks, I’m going to be moving to a new place where we know very few people, so we won’t have many opportunities to ask for and accept help right away, but I am determined to practice gracefully accepting support when those situations do arise.

How do you gracefully ask for and accept support?  


  1. Love this thoughtful post. Wish I had read it before I had my own first baby! I didn't want to ask for help then (I wouldn't have known what to ask for, anyway). I didn't want to accept it, either! And I also didn't know that for ages and ages women depended on help from others to get through the intense time surrounding childbirth--you weren't supposed to go it alone!

    When I know people will be offering to help out, I try to have a mental list of very specific things they can do to help. Fold the laundry, bring a meal, rent a movie, or deliver me Starbucks!

  2. Thank you, Anne! Since we'll be living in a new place where we don't know many people when the baby is born, I don't know that I will have much opportunity to put it into action, but I sure will try! And thank you for the advice, I have heard that it makes it much easier to ask for and accept advice when you have an idea of specific things people can do to help.


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