Mothering has taught me a lot about asking for help. There are times when handling everything alone is just too much, times when you need advice from those that have been there before, an extra set of hands or just a shoulder to sigh on.
Seeing other friends becoming parents alongside me has only helped me learn this lesson. “Please,” I remember telling a friend when her first was born, just a little while after mine, “don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you’re not alone.”
Hearing myself say the words aloud reminded me to take my own advice. I began to see asking for help not as a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. It is truly a great king who’s not afraid to fill in the gaps of his own strengths with the strength of those around him.
I’ve recently gone through another life change that is teaching me even more about help. This newest identity shift is a bit harder to embrace than becoming a mother, though. This year, after years of struggling, my husband and I split up. As much as we still collaborate, as much as we see our new family as “still a family like before, just—different,” I am now a single mom.
No one dreams of becoming a divorced parent. It’s not an identity I’m finding easy to own. But, like any life change, there is huge potential for growth. OK, so my outlook isn’t always so glass-full. A recent Facebook post after a particularly rough day in my new life read, “Really, I needed more character?”
But these past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to focus on developing more strength through weakness, like the strong king, and asking for more help when I need it. One of the many new aspects to this life has been the way my social life has changed. I don’t know when I’ve ever needed community more, exactly at a time when I feel it slipping away.
It’s not that people are taking sides. In fact, because we’re still friends and no longer locked into so many unhealthy dynamics, some friends have even said that being around both my ex and myself is actually easier. But yet, I’m now finding a giant hole where some serious fun and connection used to be had.
Little is more enjoyable when your kids are small than sharing the load of dinner and care with other like-minded adults and, usually, an adult-beverage or two on hand. But nowadays, I’m finding the opportunities for such family playdates very few and far between.
When my husband first moved out and people asked what they could do, I would tell them we’d really appreciate any invitations to join in family fun they could manage. I knew it might be a lot to ask, given how busy we all are, but I also knew how lonely it sounded to have all our recreation-time be just me and my two little girls (or on our family night, just me and their dad).
While some friends have responded to my pleas for connections with promises of more girl time, very few, with some notable exceptions, have extended invitations to join them on weekends or nights when their family is all together. I totally get this. As I’ve said, sometimes we are all too busy to even plan anything beyond the next hour or two of keeping our kids clean and fed. Too, some families are really loath to give up on the little bit of time they have alone together as a family.
Also, there is the "guy factor", for lack of a better term. It seems to me that most guys are really not that excited about hanging out with another couple unless the male partner is someone he likes and wants to hang out with. Understandable. As women, we typically try to please our family members by setting up social activities that keep everyone happy—ideally there would be a kid or kids for your own children to play with around their age(s,) and a guy for your husband to, well, be a guy with.
When there isn’t even a guy coming over at all, I’m sure the whole effort just seems like too much. I’ve tried to make clear that our split is a friendly one and if it would make it more palatable, they could invite both my ex and myself and the kids. But perhaps this just seems weird, or too complicated to most … then your toddler breaks the fish bowl while trying to hit her older brother and you’re on to the next emergency. I totally get it.
But understanding something and liking it are two different things. For one thing, as much as my kids make me blissfully happy, as much as I treasure and protect my time with girlfriends, the other kind of grown-up time can be pretty fun too, for grown-ups as well as for kids. Before, when it came to leisure time, a balance between the two was ideal for my family. But since the split invitations have been very sparse.
As time goes on, I know that I’m going to have to fight tooth and nail to reclaim a life for me and mine. If I’m not getting what I need from friends then I have two choices: get resentful and depressed, or keep finding ways to ask for what I need until I get it.
I’m not saying I expect my old life back. Nor do I blame anyone but myself for the choices that have led me here so far. But I know there are people in my life who love me and want to do what they can. I tell myself that if I’m not getting what I need I’m not being rejected. I just need to try again until I do.
Lately, when friends ask how I’m doing, I answer honestly if the time seems right. In a few cases I’ve even called friends to try to explain how much these changes are really affecting me. “I’m starting not to know where I belong anymore,” I tell them. “I’m wondering if what’s left for me socially is weekday park meet-ups, book clubs and awkward first dates.”
The responses are always kind and caring. It still takes a lot of work not to see exposing this kind of vulnerability as a weakness. But it’s work I can do — like exercise, it’s work that’s making me stronger.
To those of you who want to offer me solutions like joining a group for divorced parents, thank you. Perhaps some day, when the smoke clears a bit, that will seem right for me. For now, I’m still putting puzzle pieces together, seeing what I’ve got and what’s gone missing.
And I’ve still got a lot. I’m incredibly grateful for an amicable ex who is still very much a part of my family; I’m grateful for the happiness my kids and my work bring, and I’m grateful to have friends I can trust enough to ask for help, sometimes twice, and sometimes even more.