community · waxing philosophical

Help

My kids like to ask for help. Their motto seems to be, “Ask early, ask often.”  And while I do try to help when I can (because I would want them to do the same for me), sometimes I ask them to wait. Do you know what usually happens next?

“Oh, nevermind! I did it myself.”

Let’s just say they often ask for help when they don’t really need it.

I’ve only realized lately that there are people on the entirely other end of the spectrum. In the past few months I’ve had conversations with a few friends who, despite some particularly challenging personal issues, flat-out refuse to ask for or accept help. “I just don’t feel comfortable asking for help,” one of them told me. I was flabbergasted.

Do I live in a bubble? Off the top of my head, over the past year I’ve given and accepted the following help:

  • A friend helped me organize our home library.
  • I helped a friend declutter his overwhelmingly overstuffed home office.
  • Other parents at my kids’ school have picked my kids up when I’m running late, and I’ve done the same for them.
  • I’ve taken in packages for our next-door neighbours so they don’t get stolen.
  • I’ve given kids rides home from my daughter’s dance class.
  • I’ve made challah for neighbours who were just having a crappy week.
  • I’ve offered the use of my laundry machines when a friend’s machines were broken.
  • I’ve borrowed and lent out tools.
  • An acquaintance asked me to connect her daughter’s friend with my husband, who works in the same field, for job hunting help.

And let’s not forget the biggie – when a concussion had me unable to drive for months, my parents and in-laws pitched in and made sure that my kids got everywhere they needed to go. And they babysit our kids regularly so that Mr. December and I can have date nights or time to work on the house without distractions.

I seem to be swimming in a sea of help: help requested, help offered, help received, help given. As Mr. December often says, most people are pathologically helpful. At least, in our experience they are.

So who are these people who aren’t comfortable with asking for help? Do they also not offer help? Do they believe that they have to do everything themselves? Or do they fear rejection and prefer not to even ask than to ask and be told “no”? Are they afraid of being a burden? I don’t know. I don’t get it at all.

I (jokingly) threatened one friend that I would be seriously offended if she needed help and didn’t ask me for it. She seemed to think the associated guilt might tip the scales in favour of asking me. I hope it does.

People, we can’t do this life alone. Humans never have. Humans have always had help, whether free or bartered or hired.  It really does take a village.

I’m curious – so please do comment below – what’s your experience? Do you live in a bubble of reciprocal helping, like I do? Or do you avoid being helped? And if you don’t like asking for help? Why not?

2 thoughts on “Help

  1. Sometimes it’s caused by shame at not being able to do it themselves. (Not necessarily any kind of explicit generalized “people have to do everything themselves” philosophy. More like “ugh, I really should be able to do this myself.”)

  2. I’m not really close enough with anybody around here to feel comfortable asking for help for home and family things. No shame about not being able to do things, just not wanting to be an imposition on others when we can find a solution ourselves. My sister lives a couple hours away and we lean on her for stuff (and vice versa) and we fly out my mother in law around once a year when both of our works make us travel at the same time. If we didn’t have my MIL, we would probably hire someone.

    We’re midwestern, so we do the casserole for any event thing. We’ve connected job searching people with employers and we’ve given recommendations for things. We’re part of hand-me-down chains at work. But for the most part we keep to ourselves.

    We did a lot more trading off of things when we were on leave for a year where we had close friends from high school– lots of baby-sitting/dropping off/etc. and our friends gave us a lot of castoffs. It was easier because they were closer friends.

    Back in grad school we did a lot more helping and being helped, but everyone had less money and more time.

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