Do you have knowing how to ask for help? I have struggled with this for a long time. But I learned something recently that has helped and I want to share it with you.
Several weeks ago I reached a point when I started to dread bedtime by early afternoon every day. Nap times had become difficult and I was spending an hour or more each day trying to coax Bean to sleep. Then I’d race around the house doing chores while she never slept long enough. She’d be cheerful and agreeable for an hour or so after waking, but invariably everything fell apart again right about the time I started dinner.
On one particularly bad night, she pulled at me and whined all through dinner preparations, refused to eat the meal, and then dallied and fought her pajamas and toothbrush. By the time I turned off the light I was already exhausted and angry. But then she simply would not settle. I tried rocking her, nursing her, singing to her. I tried laying her in her crib and refusing to interact with her. I brought her crackers and a cup of milk. I tried moving to another part of the room. She yelled at me. I yelled at her. She cried, I cried. She was still awake. It was ugly.
Somewhere in the middle of it, I calculated that I was into my third or fourth hour of trying to get her to sleep in the last 12 hour period. I tortured myself by wondering about what else I might have accomplished that day if I’d had those hours to use otherwise. I thought about my man in the other room and wondered what he was doing. I resented his freedom to do whatever he wanted each evening while I fought with a not-sleepy toddler.
I was the parent in charge of bedtime and had been since Bean was born. This was going to have to change. I needed a break from bedtime.
When she finally fell asleep, I went out the the living room where the LHM was calmly surfing the web on the couch and collapsed next to him. “That sounded hard,” he said.
“I need you to take over bedtime,” I said in way of reply.
“Sure,” he said. “I’d be happy to.”
I looked at him and my jaw must have dropped. That was all I had to do? I had been prepared for a fight. I had my argument all ready, about how many hours it took me each day and how many days I’d been responsible for this particular duty solo.
All I had to do was ask for help. I had just never asked before.
Now, roughly every other night, we switch duties. One of us gets her dressed for bed, brushes teeth and reads stories. The other sits and rocks and sings until she falls asleep. Now instead of bedtime being a chore that I dread, I look forward to that sleepy snuggly time with her. And when I’m off duty, I treasure that stretch of time in my evening to unwind with a book or do a little knitting.
I’ve learned my lesson – I don’t get help unless I ask for it. But more than that, I don’t get the kind of help I need unless I ask a certain way. Here are four tips for asking for the help that you really need.
I knew I needed relief from being the only bedtime parent, but I knew I’d feel left out if I turned over the whole responsibility to him. Instead, I asked if he’d take over 4 or 5 nights a week. We came up with a schedule that worked best around our other evening commitments and agreed that we’d split the bedtime prep and sleep duties so that we were both still involved.
Before you broach your request, be clear about what will provide the best support for you. If you leave it to the other person to offer the details, they might offer something that doesn’t actually address your need.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for assistance. You can’t do everything. And truthfully, it feels good to help other people. When I asked the LHM to help me with bedtimes, I felt guilty because I was frustrated by the situation. But he had heard about my struggle with naps and saw how tired I was by the end of the day. He just hadn’t known how best to help me through it. He’d been helping out by cleaning up dinner dishes and making sure the house was clean and tidy when I came out of the bedroom. I appreciated those things, but what I really wanted was to not be in the bedroom at all.
Instead of starting your request with, “I’m sorry I can’t handle this,” just describe the situation and make your request.
When asking your partner for help, it is really easy to think, “Why isn’t it obvious to you that I need you to do this? Why do I even have to ask?” But it may not be obvious. In my case, LHM thought it was important to me to put Bean to sleep myself. He thought it was my choice and he was respecting that. When I asked him to take over, he was actually excited because that was a part of the day he didn’t get to experience with her very often.
Recognize that you may not see the other person’s motivations any better than they can see yours. Set aside any blaming, angry feelings so you can have a calm and open conversation. Explain your perspective and don’t assume theirs.
Be prepared to make adjustments.
Even if you are really specific with your initial request, you may find that things aren’t working like you thought, or the situation has shifted and your needs have changed. In our case, our schedule isn’t quite the same week to week so we didn’t stick with the original plan for very long. Now we check in with each other around dinner time about who is going to do what. Bean will ask shortly after dinner who is putting her to bed, so we need to have a plan by then so we can prepare her.
Keep the conversation going between you about what is working and what isn’t. Be willing to propose and discuss alternate solutions.
It does feel good to help others, but it stops feeling good if it isn’t clear you are actually helping. I make sure to tell LHM regularly how grateful I am to have that evening break, and how much I appreciate him settling our Bean for the night.
Make sure you tell your helpers how much their help supports you, not just once, but regularly.
I know asking for help can be really hard. But it doesn’t have to be. Give it a try.
What do you need help with this week? Who can you ask to help you?