“Ask for help. Not because you are weak, but because you want to remain strong.”
– Les Brown
Part 1 of this series focused on triaging your obligations . . . starting with recognizing that the world has changed in the past year, and that’s going to impact how you show up as a mom. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a look before digging into Part 2.
To all the moms who are struggling right now: it’s not just you. And you’re not crazy or broken or a bad parent.
I’m not a woman or a parent, and I DO want to provide support in the best way I know how—with actionable tips that will make a difference in your life, starting TODAY.
Which is an excellent segue to this week’s topic: support.
Once you’ve trimmed the fat and chopped your to-do list down, you’re still probably looking at a list that’s too long.
That’s why, once you’ve triaged your to-do list, you must leverage the people around you for support. Delegate to them, and let them share the load.
Except in rare instances, you don’t have to—and shouldn’t—carry it alone.
Social support systems look different for everyone, so we’ll approach these suggestions with 3 distinct types of mom: single moms, partnered moms, and moms who are also the main breadwinners.
Then we’ll wrap up with some tips and resources any mom can use.
FOR THE SINGLE MOMS
Single moms have a particular challenge. Without a co-parent, there may be no other primary person to ask for help when time is especially tight, like a pandemic.
Depending on your situation, you might have to get creative. Here are a couple of ways to start:
- Make a list of every friend, family member, or loved one who lives within an easy commute to your home.
Hopefully, you live near parents or close friends who support you already. But even if you’ve weathered the pandemic alone so far, and the only person you can think of is a friendly coworker who lives on the other side of town, that could be where you start. If you would help them if/when the shoe is on the other foot, then add them to the list. They are your people.
- Review your list from last week and identify tasks that can be automated or delegated to people you don’t know.
These are tasks that have to get done but do NOT have to be done by you. And remember, the only things that should still be on your list are things that are essential to YOU, not other peoples’ expectations.
What kinds of services are available to you through local community organizations, or a local church, synagogue, mosque or other spiritual center? If you’ve always been self-reliant, you may not have investigated what’s possibly out there. Your pride may smart a little but you can survive that, especially when it means actual relief and support.
If you have decent cashflow, you could pay for some of these kinds of delegation. This is where mindset comes in. You might have resistance to spending the money here, thinking you ought to be able to suck it up and just get it done. But you also know that that isn’t working.
Now if you’re broke, you’re broke. If you’re not, I encourage you to view this as an investment in yours and your family’s mental health. A few examples of tasks that can be hired out:
- Getting groceries shopped and delivered
- Food/meal prep
- Running errands and even some professional support—Taskrabbit.com, Fiverr.com. Upwork.com and Handy.com are good places to start looking
- In-home child care and/or tutors—Care.com is a good resource
- Small group childcare (if it’s within your comfort zone)
- Then delegate to people you know.
Especially if money IS tight, ask for help. Can you and your friends rotate childcare so each mom gets a day off to crush some work tasks and errands?
Maybe a friendly coworker would come co-work with you for a day or two? A second set of eyes to make sure your toddler doesn’t destroy your laptop while you’re changing a load of laundry can help a lot—and your coworker might enjoy the social time as well.
If you have family nearby, how can they help? Can your parents or siblings help watch the kids a day or two each week? The answer’s always no to every question we’re not willing to ask.
FOR THE PARTNERED MOMS
Partnered moms don’t automatically get any more support than single moms even though you’d think they would.
And if they earn less than their spouses, the expectation may be that because your partner’s salary is higher, you’re responsible for the lion’s share of domestic and childcare duties.
Pre-pandemic, these kinds of traditional gender discrepancies were surprisingly prevalent, and we know that COVID has made everything, including these kinds of imbalances, worse.
Here are a few strategies for asking your partner for what you need:
Discuss division of labor. You’ll want to do this at a predetermined time when you’re both relatively unfrazzled. Speak honestly and openly. If you’re both working full-time hours, you’re both starting in the same place.
Instead of comparing notes on all the “extras” you’re responsible for: cleaning the house, managing schooling, cooking meals, etc., start the conversation focused on collaborative problem solving. We have X amount of time and Y amount of things that need to get done. Who is best suited to do which and when?
Rebelling against perceived or real gender role expectations will usually make everyone defensive. Instead, focus on how, as a family, all the adults can contribute a similar amount of time.
If the conversation ever divolves into a comparison of income as a justification for unequal time contributions, do not take the bait. You can certainly acknowledge how helpful the extra income is while also pointing out that it doesn’t buy your time, it just makes paying expenses easier.
You can also use the compliment sandwich. Start by acknowledging what your partner contributes rather than focusing on where they fall short. So instead of saying, “I need you to help out around here for once,” say, “I love the way you play with our kids when I need a 5-minute break. How can we trade off more throughout the day so we can both focus on work and spend time with the kids at different times and together?”
And be specific. Express your needs clearly. This isn’t about retribution or getting even for however long things went along with you shouldering the bulk of the tasks. That time is over.
So, take your list of tasks from last week’s exercise and use it to collaboratively assign tasks between you. Instead of saying, “Can you please jump in and help with the kids every once in a while?!” which will never NOT sound whiny or accusatory—so try instead, “Will you please watch the kids from 2-5 p.m. M, W, and F, and and cook dinner on Tues and Thurs?”
FOR THE MAIN BREADWINNERS
It’s always surprising when a mom is the primary earner and she’s still expected to do everything else a stay-at-home parent would be expected to do … just because she’s a mom.
Of course, there are plenty of relationships where the work is divided equitably and still, there are many where it is not.
So if you’re bringing home the bacon, let’s see what we can do to shift some of those other responsibilities off your back.
If your partner is also working full-time, how were you managing those tasks previously? Now that everyone is home 24/7, has anything changed?
If, in the past, you were Supermom before the pandemic—exercising daily, earning big bucks AND putting dinner on the table every night and doing laundry before bed—are you ready to let that identity go?
This is a perfect time to approach running the household like any other collaborative enterprise … which doesn’t mean it becomes heartless. It just means that the functionality and sustainability of the system should be driving your choices rather than any story where ego or guilt are defining participation rather than bandwidth and efficiency.
So to start that discussion and shift, here are some action steps just for you:
- Consider hiring or expanding help.
Depending on how safe it feels to have someone not already embedded in your home, a little outside help with housekeeping or watching/schooling the kids goes a long way. If you already have some help coming in and they have the bandwidth and the skills, could their responsibilities be expanded? Could they run errands, prepare meals, do laundry? There’s no shame in asking and outside help is a great way to distribute the workload of running your household.
- Engage your partner.
Whether you’re exploring the external help question or just the division of labor between you, speak openly and honestly about what you’re both doing now, and where the overwhelm is. Make a plan together on how to tackle to-dos that feel like too much. Remember that identifying the common problem first allows everyone to focus on the solution.
Sometimes, even trading tasks for a day or two can help ease the burden you’re feeling. Changing up what and/or when you do a chore can knock some of the dust off you and the task.
If you just need to vent about how stressed you are, this is not the meeting for that. That would be better directed on a call with a close friend who will just support you without possibly feeling guilty or shamed EVEN IF the venting isn’t about them. When we feel ANY culpability, it’s very hard not to take something personally.
- Engage your kids.
We’ll go into this more in the next section, since it applies to all moms—but depending on their ages, your kids can help, too. A great book on this subject is The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, not that you need another thing to read. The point is, raising resilient children includes teaching them responsibility AND not shielding them from reality. COVID is a life-changing event. Instead of minimizing that, bring them into the conversation and this new set of circumstances with you.
FOR ALL MOMS
Even if it’s never occurred to you to ask your kids for help, it’s time to consider it.
Depending on how old your kids are, this pandemic—and the toll it’s taking on you as a parent—is a ready-made learning opportunity.
And while I’m not a parent, I am someone’s child. As a child, I always appreciated being included in family conversations, even when it was clear that I wasn’t an equal partner in any final decisions.
I also had chores I had to do each week that were not negotiable and expected of me as part of the family.
I didn’t have to give my paper route money to my mom so she could buy groceries but I contributed in other ways—by taking out the trash, mowing the lawn and getting my laundry down the chute so she didn’t have to.
And here’s a cautionary tale and a window into what it feels like when the adults are doing all the planning and cutting the kids out of essential information that will impact them, too.
When I was 12 years old, I spent the entire summer in South Florida with my grandmother. We had a great time and then, when I got home, on the way home from the airport, my mom told me that my dad wasn’t living with us any more and that they were getting a divorce.
You can probably imagine how confusing and destabilizing that was to process as I was trying to reintegrate into what I had expected was our old routines. I’d had a great summer away and now it was time to get back to normal and school.
Only nothing was normal and I was just expected to go with it—no discussion or process offered.
So, here’s my invitation for you to not do your kids the disservice of assuming they can’t—or don’t want to—participate in the process.
You all have the chance to both navigate the consequences created by the pandemic as well as problem-solve how you all as a family can pull together and reduce stress across the board by sharing responsibilities for keeping the household somewhat organized and functional.
They may complain at having to give up some of their free time and at the same time, you can know that you’re imparting serious life lessons and skills they will use for the rest of their lives. I’d say that’s well worth dealing with a bit of bellyaching in the short term.
And maybe they’ll surprise you (and me) with how well they adapt to making their own breakfast and lunches, washing up after dinner, and even helping cook a night or two a week.
Support is out there … even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Support systems have the most value when we use them. If you’ve been waiting to ask for help until you “really need it,” I’d say now was that time.
There’s no shame in getting help and you’ll never know what’s possible until you ask. So take a deep breath and reach out to friends, family, and—yes—even your boss for support so you can reduce your stress and stabilize yourself. That’s essential for you to keep everything else moving forward.
Next week we’ll focus on how to have that conversation with your boss, so stay tuned.
There’s no glory in suffering in silence.
And ideally, you won’t be suffering at all … even if that’s been a pattern in the past.
In Buddhist philosophy they talk often about pain being real and present but suffering is a product of our minds.
I’m not suggesting you just “snap out of it” and I AM suggesting that you look at if/when you’re piling more on yourself psychologically than you need to because of a story where you are not the hero … simply because you’re trying to survive.
So ask for help, look at how tasks are currently being divided up and be creative in reassigning and delegating whatever can be to either a trusted outside source OR a family member or friend.
And don’t underestimate how much your kids can learn from and contribute in challenging times—they’ll grow stronger and more resilient and you’ll get some much needed relief.
Sounds like a win, win for everyone.
While considering what’s next for you at home, why not get a jump start on tidying up with our FREE 5-Day De-Stress Your Mess Challenge, starting on April 26. Over 10,000 people signed up in January and we’re expecting, even more, this time!