The Beauty of Asking for Help

I’m slowly checking off my summer bucket list.  Today was tie dye, peaches and strawberries, picnic dinner at Descanso Gardens (with live music) and back home for root beer floats.  Even better, tonight at Descanso Gardens I was able to do one of my favorite things.

For our picnic dinner I made a really yummy Chinese chicken salad and packed the dinner and all accoutrements very compactly into one bag.  While I was busy being impressed with myself, I remembered that I forgot the eating utensils just as we were walking through the gates of the park. I immediately went over to the cafe but it was closed for the night, so I lamely looked in the gift shop to see if they had anything. (Did I really think I would find a package of plastic forks next to the lavender sugar and dragonfly tea cups??) That’s when I did something that never fails to embarrass and then reluctantly impress my husband: I got what I needed by asking for help.

Not only do I not have qualms about asking for directions, help, favors, or things to borrow, I especially enjoy making requests of complete strangers. In fact, we met some of our very dearest friends because (despite my husband’s protests) I randomly knocked on their door to see if I could borrow some computer paper. I have a new saying as of five minutes ago: necessity is the mother of all relationships. It’s my little experiment with humanity and the results rarely fail me: people like to be helpful! People like to feel someone needs them and that they can deliver! And when people help other people they are naturally drawn to each other while simultaneously feeling good about themselves. What could be better than that?

One of the best reactions I ever got from my experiment was just last year at a gas station. I needed to fill my tires with air and I remember having a question about the little air pressure gauge thingy but there were no service people around. I looked over and saw a stuffy-looking, professionally dressed older man putting gas in his very expensive looking car. I caught him totally off guard when I asked him about the air pressure gauge thingy. I wish I could adequately describe his reaction. He almost leaped to my aid! He seemed so genuinely excited to be of assistance that by the end of our exchange my simple plea for help had him quite convinced he was not only helpful, but in fact a very good person. (I could tell by the spring in his step.) I love it! By simply asking someone for the help I really need I help them to feel they are a good and decent human being. Isn’t that fun?

Another experience sticks out in my memory.  It was late summer and I was very pregnant with our fourth child.  It was already sweltering outside and anyone who has ever been in the later stages of pregnancy during summer knows what I mean when I say I was hot!  Heat equals exhaustion and after a long, arduous trip through the grocery store I was met at the automatic door with that blast-from-the-oven heat daring me to load up my groceries without going into labor.  I did what I could, but when I got down to that big flat of water bottles underneath the cart, the thought of bending over, grappling to get them out and then heaving them into the back of my mini van just seemed too much.  I spotted a sullen, heavily tattooed teenage boy who looked strapping enough for the job. Certainly it would be nothing for him to put those water bottles in my car.  So I asked him.  After lavishing him with praise and gratitude (and let me tell you, it was genuine!) his sheepish grin told me he was a little softened by the experience of being kind and helpful to a big fat pregnant lady.  It made my day.

Back at Descanso Gardens, the lady in the gift shop really wanted to help me.  She went completely out of her way by going over to the break room and rummaging through all the drawers until she came up with four forks and a spoon. Perfect! I got what I needed, she felt good about herself and we both had a lovely interaction with a stranger leading us to feel the world wasn’t such a bad place after all. We could all use more of this.

The application of this to motherhood is an easy one. As mothers, we often get in the habit of doing it all: all the errands, all the housework, all the cooking, all the laundry – you name it, we do it, and we do it ourselves.  Our children come to us as helpless infants so we inevitably get used to them relying on us, but if we continue to do everything for our children as they get older we not only deprive them of the opportunity to feel capable, good, and helpful, but we also deprive ourselves of the relationship building that comes from asking for and receiving help from them.  It is often said that the reason we love our children so much is because we give so much of ourselves for them. Doesn’t it stand to reason then that if they had more opportunities to sacrifice a little for us, their feelings for us might grow as well?

A little warning here. There are different ways to ask for help. “Get in here and take out the trash before you lose something!” is not what you’re going for. Neither is the super sweet, slightly guilt-trippy, “Okay, isn’t anyone going to help mommy clean up the living room?” What I’m talking about is a genuine request for age appropriate help that can be filled by one of your children. I find when I ask them as I would ask another adult (with respect and consideration) they actually move pretty quickly. Not only do I get much needed help, but they feel good and important (be sure to thank them graciously as you would that anonymous adult) and our relationship is improved. Win, win, triple win.

So the next time you find yourself in a serious bind and need an extra set of hands, go ahead and ask one of your kids to help you out. No demanding, no guilt tripping, no nagging. Just ask nicely and wait to be pleasantly surprised. Necessity really is the mother of all relationships.



CHALLENGE: Next time you need help, ask for it!  Just do it!

QUESTION: When have you asked for help and been really glad you did?

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April Perry
Said this on 7-27-2009 At 10:02 am
Thanks so much for writing this, Allyson! I loved it. I notice that my children really love to help me out–especially on those days when they know I am exhausted. It does something good to the soul when you serve another person. Sometimes we just need opportunities!
Said this on 8-23-2009 At 01:10 pm
What an excellent point! It really does benefit both parties so much when help is asked for and received. I remember when I had my twins and had 3 other little kids under 5, people offered to help quite a bit – and I got quite good at accepting that help. I was shy about it at first – I’ve always been a “do-it-yourselfer” who is too prideful – and sometime too controlling of how I want the outcome to be – to ask others for help. But when I finally let go of some of that pride and control and replaced it with humility and gratitude, I found that it was quite nice to have people help me. I even put up a list of things that needed to be done around the house on the fridge so that when well-meaning people stopped by or called and earnestly asked what they could do for help, I went ahead and offered them a list of possibilities of things they could do that would really be helpful. They were so glad to know what really needed to be done – rather than having to guess – and I lavished the thanks and praise and everyone was happy! I’ve found that people like specific requests – it empowers them to really be helpful and takes the guesswork out of things.

Said this on 8-25-2009 At 09:05 pm
Thank you for writing this. What wonderful insight! I, too, have seen the delighted looks on my children’s faces when they know the service they are rendering is really needed and appreciated.

Bonnie Tonita White
Said this on 8-27-2009 At 10:49 am
The trick for me has been to not rescue too quickly – to wait for my children to ask for help – I can undermine them and give the impression of their weaknesses or inadequacy. I wonder if this is how Heavenly Father operates too? “Ask, and ye shall receive?”

Shauna Hunt
Said this on 6-16-2010 At 05:07 pm

Loved reading your thoughts.  I actually have the same line of thinking, but never thought about putting it into words.  I was at a restaurant one time and was out of diapers and my child needed a diaper change immediately.  I noticed another mother and decided to ask her for one.  My sisters were apalled that I would do such a thing.  But all I could think that if another mother approached me I would be so happy that I could HELP!  and so would they.

Why not give people a chance to help. . . they usually love to be needed!

Said this on 8-24-2010 At 02:01 pm

Oh wise Allyson.  I love reading your articles/blog.  This was great.  I love striking up conversations with strangers and what little surprises you get from doing that.  I know what you mean about trying not to do everything for your kids.  I didn’t empower mine much when they were younger and more teachable and now that they are adults, I am struggling to teach but grateful that they want the help.

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