My husband and I were shocked to learn that he weighed less than 3 pounds, was ill and would have a disability.
My life felt like it was getting out of hand. My husband and I were in our early thirties juggling a toddler and two full-time business careers. Suddenly we dropped our 2 year old at daycare every morning before racing to visit our son in the hospital. We brace ourselves for another day of on-the-ground decisions regarding drugs and transfusions.
“Let me know what I can do,” said many of our loved ones.
I wanted to help people, but I didn’t know what to say. I felt uncomfortable being direct, and I thought that small favors wouldn’t be helpful when we were dealing with such big problems.
Instead of reaching out, I withdrew and struggled to manage everything on my plate. Why did it feel uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of the aid? I was always ready to help others. Now, almost 10 years later, I wonder how I could have accepted help and made the situation easier for my family and me.
‘We are afraid that we will be a burden’
Do you think less of someone asking for support or do you see that person as a burden? “No, of course not,” Grant said. “In fact, helping is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have.”
Her words resonated with me. I was raised to be independent and help others — something I’ve always enjoyed. I wanted to feel comfortable receiving help when I needed it so much.
Even though I couldn’t ask directly, many friends and neighbors knew we were dealing with a crisis and took the initiative to ease our burden. The nursery director took my daughter to her house on the day my son was born. We often had a hot meal delivered to my doorstep by members of my book club.
“If you expand your circle a little bit, more people are willing to help than we think and that relieves those closest to us,” Bohns said. “It also makes you feel like you have more support and maybe connect with people who are more able to help. Individuals who are a step away sometimes have more time or more experience than close friends or family.”
A pointy person takes some of the pressure off
Those favors made me feel loved and supported. Since others often took care of meals and other aspects of our lives, it was easier to focus and take in news from doctors.
As my son’s hospital stay continued for most of the summer, I felt exhausted from repeating disturbing and inconclusive medical updates to family and friends. I asked a close relative to be a central person for others to go to if they wanted to check in with us. That also made a big difference.
“A point person can take the psychological burden off you, but it also takes the psychological burden off people who don’t want to invade your privacy,” Bohns said.
We discussed how our contact or another helper could have managed the support offerings by collecting names on a list and letting them know that we would contact them if I had a better idea of how they could help.
“When you’re in a crisis, it’s often hard to figure out what people can do,” Bohns says. “It’s a lot easier to ask for something on behalf of someone else than to ask for it yourself. Knowing that you can get little bits of support (from many different people) instead of being so dependent on a few individuals gives reassurance without the baggage feeling dependent or guilty.”
Relying on the Rich Resources of a Community
Our need for support has been around for a long time. Knowing who might have more time or more willingness to lend a hand every now and then would have been a huge plus, especially as many offers faded away after my son was released from the hospital. Why didn’t people intervene when I explained the constant rotation of doctor and therapy appointments?
“We all wish people could read our minds, know what we need, and volunteer it,” said Grant, the social psychologist. “People need to understand that you both need help and want it, and they need to know what kind you want them to give — that means you really need to ask.”
When I’m having a rough week with extra appointments, I look for a friend who can listen or take a walk with me to clear my head. I am vocal about my challenges and prefer to let people know. And I don’t just rely on my inner circle. I have a great community of resources — from which we all benefit.
Jaclyn Greenberg writes about her experiences raising her three young children. She has written for DailyExpertNews, HuffPost, Wired, Parents and other places.