A few months ago, I did something to my back. I have no clue what it was, but I had a bit of lower back pain that escalated quickly, and I realized one day that I couldn’t bend down normally or lift much of anything without pain.
Then I worked 33 hours in four days, and I could barely walk when I left at the end of Sunday night.
I’d been pushing myself through the pain, wearing IcyHot patches and dosing up on Aleve, because waitresses don’t get sick days, and it’s hard to take one as a mom, too. But when I had three days off from work after that 33-hour weekend (Thursday through Sunday), I couldn’t do anything. I was thrilled when we had a snow day instead of homeschool co-op, and I basically spent three days pointing at things that needed doing (which I usually did) and telling people to do them.
But it was hard to do. It was actually difficult for me to just sit there and allow everyone else to do things for me that I normally did myself. I felt guilty for not doing laundry, for not washing the pots and pans after cooking, for having to ask my kids to make my bed for me.
Why is this? If my kids were hurt, if my husband wasn’t well, I would help in a heartbeat. I’d be happy to do so. Yet when I need help, I tend to have a difficult time asking for it.
I remember when I finally began to ask for help on a smaller scale. My family was all visiting for my younger daughter’s First Holy Communion, just over 9 years ago. My dishwasher bit the dust as I was hosting meals for large numbers of extended family, and I had to make a run to the store for something just after lunch. My mother asked, “Can I do anything for you?” and I said, “Yes! Please wash the lunch dishes for me. Thank you.”
Another time, we had our annual anniversary cookout with about 35-40 guests, and as we finished eating, it began to rain. Everyone there grabbed whatever they could and brought it to my kitchen, where we all boxed up leftovers, washed platters and bowls, and cleaned everything up. As we finished, the rain stopped, and we all went back outside to enjoy the now-cooled-off August evening.
Even though I’d learned to ask for some help, it was difficult for me to relinquish all duties to others. Though I’d be happy to do the same for my family, I felt guilty for not doing more on my days off.
Our culture lauds the Do-It-Yourself mindset. We have great stories of men and women who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, who have made headway in the world (seemingly) on their own. We hold up great examples of people who push themselves to be self-sufficient and successful. And we expect this from ourselves, to a great extent.
No matter how much I know in my brain that no one succeeds alone – that everyone needs help sometimes – I, too, can get caught up in a DIY mentality. Beginning work as a waitress last year has forced me to reconsider how my household should be run (or can be run). Before working, I loved to cook and plan my menu out by the month. I’d make chicken broth from scratch, bake just often enough to make my family happy, and create meals using nearly all fresh ingredients. Since I started working, I’ve had to go back to buying chicken broth (a staple in my house!), starting with more boxed ingredients, and baking only on special occasions, if at all. My menus are sometimes planned for a week, and they almost always go off the rails before Wednesday. I often have to rely on my daughter to start (or finish) dinner, and this past weekend, I asked my husband to just grill something. (It was amazing, by the way.)
Before working, I could get my daughter to all appointments without assistance, but now I have to either schedule them for one of my two days off or have her sister help me get her there.
Before working, I could generally keep the house somewhat organized. (Somewhat. I’m not going to pretend I have ever had a truly neat-and-tidy house.) But now piles start and I feel so overwhelmed looking at them that I can’t even start to sort through them. I ask my husband and kids to help me try to organize things, to put them away, to vacuum or wash the floors for me.
And inside, I feel guilty for asking them to do what I’ve seen for years to be my jobs. I can’t get over the feeling that I ought to be doing everything, still.
The DIY culture has us all believing that we need to be able to be self-sufficient. But our Catholic culture reminds us all the time that it’s not supposed to be this way.
We’re meant to live in community. We’re meant to help each other. We’re meant to lift each other up.
And the one thing I’m having to learn the hard way is that this can’t happen if we’re unwilling to ask for help or accept it when it’s offered. I’ve found that it’s a blessing to be able to help someone with a problem – to serve a friend in need. But when I refuse to ask for help, if I refuse help offered, I’m denying my friend the same blessing.
We need to allow the people around us to gain those blessings and graces that come from helping others. We must allow others to help us, no matter what the DIY culture tells us.
Sometimes that looks like allowing someone to clean up for you when you’re too busy.
Sometimes that looks like letting your husband plan and cook a delicious dinner for your family.
Sometimes that looks like allowing someone to do the laundry and fold it (even though it’s not how you would fold it).
Sometimes it means letting your kids pick up the groceries for you.
And sometimes it means sitting on the couch like a princess, pointing at stuff that needs doing and letting your family do it for you because your back hurts too much to even bend over and put socks on.
©2018 Christine Johnson