This is a guest post from Danielle Veith, who blogs about staying sane while raising kids at Crazy Like a Mom.
For new parents, one of the best things ever invented is the date-night-swap.
My husband and I discovered this when our daughter was two, swapping nights out with the parents of our daughter’s closest friend. My preferred trade was when it all happened in the same weekend: “I’ll watch your daughter while you go out on Friday night and you’ll watch mine while we go out on Saturday night.”
Parents save money on hiring a sitter, get to spend time together and the kids get to see each other two days in a row. Win-win-win. I liked when it was clean and neat and we were all even at the end of the weekend.
When it wasn’t all wrapped up in a weekend, I was less fond of the arrangement. I hated feeling like I owed someone. Or worse, like someone owed me (who wants to feel both slighted and petty?).
Then, something happened that changed everything.
A few months after our son was born, my husband had a procedure that meant he couldn’t pick up anything more than 10 pounds for two weeks. Which meant the daily kid-rearing duties were all on me. And taking care of my husband. And the nighttime parenting. My son had never been a great sleeper, but at that age, he was waking up six times a night. All on me.
I tried to do everything—for the kids, for my husband—and am usually at my best when this kind of rallying is needed. That lasted about two weeks. Then I crashed. I was so tired, I could not function. My arms were so weak, I could hardly lift my heavy little boy and was afraid of carrying him up and down the stairs. I hid in the kitchen and cried a lot.
I stink at asking for help. At least I used to. When we had our second baby, someone gave me the best-advice-ever: “If someone offers help, don’t say no.” I made a vow to follow it, no matter how hard. Many times, I even had to say aloud, “I’m only saying yes, because I promised myself I won’t say no to help.”
So, when my daughter’s preschool offered to organize other families to bring dinners while my husband recovered, I said yes. When they let us out of our fundraising obligation, which would be taken on by other families, we said no at first. We could manage. Their response was amazing, “Even if you think you could do it, it’s more important to spend time together as a family at a time like this.” So, we said yes. And thank you.
Then I told my friends we were having a really hard time. I swear to you that moms came out of the woodwork.
There were dinners, playdates, help with bedtime, grocery shopping, offers to pick up whatever we needed from Target. A friend came over and gave me a massage. My best mom friends moved a moms’ night out to my living room floor, because I couldn’t leave the kids alone, even after bedtime, with a husband who couldn’t pick them up if they cried. They helped with bathtime and even read my kids bedtime stories.
It was amazing. And humbling. And I had to say yes. I needed help.
For a while, I couldn’t envision ever being able to function on my own again. To take care of my kids, to make meals, do laundry, it all seemed quite unbearable. Life felt so overwhelming that the idea that I would ever me able to manage my day-to-day and also help someone else was unimaginable.
So, I said yes. I accepted help from people knowing I couldn’t return the favor. I had never been in that position before. I owed people, and I couldn’t repay.
And it’s all that got me through. Impossibly, somehow that time passed. Life isn’t like that now. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I did, but not on my own.
So now, it’s different. Every time I can make someone dinner, take someone’s kid for an afternoon, offer whatever help is needed, I say yes. It’s not as if I never made dinner for a new mom or helped out when a friend was sick, but it’s not the same as before. I want to help in ways that will never be repaid.
It’s really just a basic way that communities function, but it was all new to me. I’d never lived in one place very long or attended church or any of those things that give people a community.
Of course, I’d heard all the “It takes a village” talk, but suddenly I knew what it felt like to have a village, to be a village.
I’m not saying I suddenly turned into Mother Theresa, but I did stop counting. No one owes me a thing.
Danielle Veith is a poet and writer who blogs at Crazy Like a Mom about staying sane while raising kids. She lives with her two small children and husband in the Washington DC area.