Letter to a New Mom

Originally published May 7, 2014

Congratulations, mom. This moment—becoming a parent—is certain to bring with it a rush of emotions from across the spectrum. Joy, fear, an overwhelming sense of nurturing and protection, and for those that struggle with postpartum, frightening feelings of resentment or depression. Motherhood is tough stuff.

No matter what side of the fence you sit, there is one gift you can give yourself that fits everyone perfectly—learning the skill of asking for help.

It seems almost silly, right? After all, some new moms are overwhelmed with offers to help. Right from the get go, the nurses in the hospital may ask to take the baby to the nursery so you can sleep peacefully. Then comes the friends and family plan:

  • “Let me hold the baby.”
  • “You go rest, I’ll watch her.”
  • “Here are 10 frozen dinners. You shouldn’t have to cook right now.”
  • “Take a nap. I’ve got this.”

Those unsolicited offers are fantastic and you should take advantage of every single one. Because they don’t last. Before long, your precious newborn is a 1-year-old teether that’s slobbering more than a hound dog. Or a 4-year-old who won’t go down for his nap. Or a 7-year-old smartypants who just got mouthy with Grandma. And that’s if you’re lucky.

No one wants to think of this when they are holding their beautiful baby for the first time, but there will be tough times. This isn’t meant to scare you as a new parent. Parenthood is amazing. It’s a gift beyond imagination. But it’s also real. It ain’t all Hallmark cards and Procter and Gamble Mother’s Day commercials. There will be situations that will bring you to your knees. And if you can’t learn to ask for help now, it becomes so much harder to ask when your kids are older.

What if your child has special needs? Is autistic? Struggles with a learning disability? Has a serious physical or mental illness? Isn’t the jock or super genius that nabs a full ride to Duke or Yale? As new parents, it’s easy and understandable the only challenges you think you’ll face are toilet training and eating vegetables. That’s all you should be thinking about right now. But women are so naturally goddamned good at playing the martyr, asking for help is a skill we rarely master.

There are so many reasons women don’t ask for help. It’s practically genetic. “Why would I need help? I am a woman. I am a mother. I am Sheryl Effin Sandberg, and I can LEAN ALL THE F*CK THE WAY IN and do it all.” From those that came before us to 80s TV role models like Claire Huxtable and Murphy Brown, to the media, the message is usually this: Quit your bitching. You had this kid, now you can raise it. And keep your man happy. And keep a job. No one helped us and look how good a job we did.

The problem, though, is that raising kids is never as simple as a sitcom problem, and while there are a million parenting books all claiming to have the best advice, none of these things can serve as a surrogate when you need an extra hand. And that beautiful baby sleeping peacefully? There are no guarantees he or she won’t get bullied, or develop an eating disorder, or have trouble in math and require a special education class. Or suffer from debilitating anxiety. Or struggle with self-worth because they don’t think they are as beautiful or as handsome as you think they are, and are certain no one at school thinks they are good looking, either.

There will be days or weeks or months that become so trying, it’s all you can do not to cry yourself to sleep at night. YOU LOVE THAT KID. You want to fix that kid. You want to help that kid, but you are so tired, so overwhelmed and so lost, you don’t even know where to start. All your energy is expended on THAT KID YOU LOVE WITH ALL YOUR HEART, that you have nothing left to put toward your other kids, or your marriage, or your job.

By learning to ask for help now, the words will form so much more easily when the kids are older. No lie—it really does take a village to raise a child. Asking a neighbor if they can push your baby in the stroller around the block while you stand in your kitchen over a pot of boiling pasta may seem unnecessary. After all, you’ve got a pimped out Exersaucer. But it’s easier to establish that skill when they’re cute and compliant rather than when you are knocking on that same door 16 years later at 2 a.m. asking for help with your younger kids because you have to pick an older one up from a party where she learned how to do a keg stand. Or because you need someone to take your younger child to soccer because you have an IEP meeting for another one. Or because one of your kids just needs a lot of your time, and the guilt you feel not spending more with your other kids is smothering you.

There is no shame in asking for help. Yet so many of us feel it. Especially in the age of Facebook, when everyone posts how super duper awesome their kids are, and yours is struggling. Who here has seen someone post, “Great day today! Johnny was arrested for toking up in the mall parking lot!”

The fear of embarrassment and of looking anything less than perfect as a parent often keeps us from taking care of ourselves. And who can be a good parent when battling your own sense of self-worth, along with depression, sleep-deprivation, frustration and resentment? As much as I am hopeful for all parents that they never face a hurdle they can’t cross, I believe it’s smart to gear up for the battles you want to win. The sooner you learn to say, “ I need help,” the better a parent you become.

This post one of many Letters to a New Mom that come from my fantastic community of bloggers at ChicagoNow, all in honor of Mother’s Day this weekend. Usually, I’m just a book gal. I like books. A lot. And I love to tell people what is worth reading. If you’d like to stay in the loop, simply type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

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