When they inevitably explode from the non-stop chaos of motherhood, their partners may question them, “Why didn’t you tell me you needed help?” So, mothers have to add another task to their never-ending to-do list: dictating what needs to get done, even though it’s the same things that need to get done EVERY day. This just adds to her stress.
Moms are exhausted. As a mother, you’ve probably encountered a similar situation to this: You’ve been up all night with the baby because she’s nursing and no one else can feed her. Your toddler needs to get to preschool, but he’s not even dressed yet, nor is his lunch or snacks, and breakfast? Has he eaten breakfast? Soon you’re stressed, bouncing baby on your hip while trying to put pants on a toddler as he watches Blippi on TV. Meanwhile, your husband strolls downstairs, looking refreshed and clean from a shower while you make a sarcastic comment about never showering.
You secretly give him the evil eye as he picks up the son you are trying to dress. Not helpful, but maybe he’s going to get him dressed. Instead, he hugs him and puts him back down for me to continue to dress. You have reminded him countless times that you need help in the morning, yet it seems like he has forgotten again. It’s not easy to get a newborn and a toddler ready for the day all on your own. You’ve reminded him so often that you are beginning to feel like a nag or even worse… his mother. He finally sees you struggling and asks how he can help. Well, that’s a start.
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When you are a couple you take the little things for granted. A quick run to the store, having to use the restroom, answering the phone or getting a drink of water all become much more difficult when you are doing it alone. Especially since I have three. When one has to go to the bathroom we ALL have to go. When you need butter from the store... guess what?!?!? Everyone goes! I can’t step away to answer a call or to look at anything. It’s all of us all of the time. It can become exhausting. You learn to adapt and you learn to live more in the moment. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for these children.
Trying to avoid the snarky answer of “the same things we have to do every day to get him out of the house to preschool!” and instead say, “You could get him dressed?” Your partner replies: “Ok, where are his clothes. What hat should he wear? What about shoes? Which shoes should he wear? Are these too small? Where are the white ones he had one yesterday? I can only find one, do you know where the other one is?” His inquiries are relentless. You mutter a passive-aggressive “Nevermind, just make him a lunch.”
And the inquiries don’t stop there. Not only have you wasted time answering all these questions, you now have to tell him what goes into his OWN child’s lunch. Bit by bit, he asked dozens of questions and instead of saving time, you feel like you are later than before, only now you are seriously frustrated that you have to dictate every move your husband makes.
And it’s not just husbands and partners. Other family members and friends will ask what they can do, but never just go and do it. They will come over to see your newborn, ignoring your older child, the sink full of dishes (ok, the sink and countertops and dishwasher….). You know why they came: they just want to hold the baby. You host a slew of guests those first few weeks at home, embarrassed by the current state of your house. Everyone asks what they can do to help, which in itself is so amazing. They are so great for asking, but you’re just too tired to tell someone else what needs to get done. You’re also ashamed that if you tell them how behind you are on the most basic of things, you worry they will judge you and your inability to be a good mother, wife and homemaker.
You wish they would see the piles of laundry that you will never get to and just fold them and bring the baskets to the rooms they belong in. Or see the dishes that are stacked so high and the lack of clean silverware and just start washing. Not having to tell someone what to do is how you can help. Taking the reins over for an overwhelmed mother is what she really needs. Because instead of telling everyone what they can do to help, she attempts to do it herself and further exhausts herself to the point of breakdown, because she can’t do it all. It’s impossible.
When I was a few weeks postpartum with my second child, inwardly battling postpartum anxiety, and completely overwhelmed with life with two kids under 2, a good friend came up to visit with her children. She brought with her huge container full of shepherd's pie, giving me instructions on how to heat it and instructed me to sit back and relax. My son played with her kids, and while I assumed us adults would catch up while they played, she just went right over to the sink and did all my dishes. No asking, just doing.
I cannot tell you how much this meant to me. She made my family dinner for days; she did a task I had been putting off while caring for the kids; she put me at ease for the first time since I brought my daughter home. A friend like her is someone every mother should have. I will forever remember that day; we didn’t catch up much, but she did ease the load of motherhood for an afternoon and I will be forever be thankful.
All moms carry the load of remembering all the things and then making sure they get done (usually by her) and ensuring that they are done in time. Birthday party planning, school reminders, homework, making sure the kids have clean clothes; making sure they have clothes that fit; doctor’s visits, shot schedules, sign-ups for dance class and flag football… the list goes on. The mental load a mother experiences could be debilitating. She should ask for help, right? NO, you should just do what you know needs to get done.
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I am tired of feeling guilty for getting the rest I need. There was a time I was waking up 7-11 times every night for a year. To say I was exhausted was an understatement. I reached a breaking point and realized I was adding to my sickness. My depression built when I believed the lie that I had to do this on my own because “that’s what mamas do”. No. We were meant to live in community. Now, before you laugh because there isn’t anyone around you helping, remember, you need to ASK for help. Find a church home and ask. Find a mom group and ask. Sit down with your partner that may not understand the depth of your distress and ask. “I need you to take over the night feedings.” “I need you to take care of the dishes and trash.” “I need you to take the kids when you get home.” - - If your mother or MIL is helping, “I need you to take baby for 2 hrs every week with no judgment or questions.” If it’s a friend or someone from a mom group, “I need help. My mind is not in a good place and I need some time to work on it without baby. Can you come over during nap time once per week so I can figure things out?” - - How are you going to ask for help this week? - - - #mommingwithtruth #mommingainteasy #dontforgetdads #daddingit #askforhelp #colickybaby #colickybabysurvivor #shestilldoesntsleep #teamnosleep #howtoaskforhelp #momsneedhelp #gethelpgetbetter #shareresponsibilities #twoparents #depressionawareness #postpartumlife #postpartumjourney #postpartumsupport #postpartummentalhealth
Women will run themselves into the ground because it’s too difficult to ask for help; it feels too much like defeat. Asking for help is akin to saying “I can’t do this,” or “my kids aren’t worth the sacrifice of my time and energy, just do this for me.” Suffering is a badge of honour most mothers wear, sometimes because it’s easier than admitting you are struggling.
By the time mom asks for help, she may already be drowning in the chaos of motherhood. She may be barely holding her head above water, about to drown, and you could push her down if you ask one more question. If you’re waiting for us mothers to admit we need help, then validate our struggle by just helping without being told. You are all adults, parents, humans… you all know what basic needs are required in day to day life.
Here are some examples on how to help:
- Bring food already made that just needs to be heated
- Throw in some laundry. Fold some laundry
- Make a shopping trip for them. There is nothing more terrifying than venturing out alone with a newborn for the first time.
- Run the Vacuum
- Walk their dog
- Hold baby (because that’s what you came for) and insist mama go upstairs and rest/shower/cry/whatever she needs to do
- Help older kids get dressed; feed them; make sure they are clean
- Take kids to school and playdates. Entertain them for an afternoon.
- When you noticed she is stressed, send her out of the house for some time alone to do whatever she needs to do.
Here is an example of how NOT to help:
- “Oh let me take that off your hands. I’ll go food shopping.”
- “Now what do we need?”
- “Is this the kind of bread the kids like?”
- “What about this cheese?”
- “Do we need milk? Butter? Mac and cheese?”
The bottom line is if you want to help an overwhelmed mama, look around, determine what needs to get done, and then JUST DO IT. Don’t ask her question; she doesn’t care if the towels are folded correctly or that we have the right type of ketchup. Just do it. Let her know you see all she does and not add to her to-do list by asking her to dictate what you should already know needs to get done.