Not too long ago, I was unhappy. My marriage was strong, my kids were healthy, but the rest of life had gone to crap. Often, I would look for someone to turn to for a true, genuine connection. Someone who meant it when they asked “How are you?” and asked uncomfortable follow-up questions in an effort to help out. Someone who could save me from the sad thoughts of a tired mother whose life was not going as planned. Someone with both time to help and the compassion of a mother, which is basically impossible to find.
At 33, I was not too far removed from the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I had an infant and a three-year-old. I’d been forced to close my business due to my health. Our landlords unceremoniously announced a rent hike of nearly 30%. At the time I wasn’t even sure how we were going to afford groceries. We had become an uncomfortable sob story to our middle class friends, and we didn’t really know how to ask for support.
There we were, dealing with all of these huge life changes, trying to process what the future would hold. Simultaneously envisioning what my life would be like without use of my legs or eyes and how we would afford to eat toward the end of the pay period. Wondering if I would regain the ability to hold my baby with my left arm while desperately searching for affordable, family-worthy housing.
Day in and day out as we struggled, and often failed, to fight back tears and parent happily and effectively, I started to wonder. Where was The Village?
You know, the friends who offer to take our kids for a few hours so we could sob about the major diagnosis in peace? The family who drops by, notices our cupboards are a bare and returns with a few bags of groceries without any expectation in return. The maternal figure who spends days mothering the mother in her time of need?
Had it not been for the fact that I was constantly surrounded by the absorbent ears of my children, I would have screamed out for The Village using a barrage of colorful expletives. I have never been one to believe anyone owes me anything. I have always worked hard, often two and three jobs. My husband and I care for our children 100% on our own, no daycare, no evenings or weekends with the kids off to their grandparents. I’m not a stranger to figuring out what bootstraps are and pulling myself up by them, with a positive outlook and full responsibility for my own predicaments. However, at this point I was drowning in my own sea of moments that proved, yes, things actually could get worse.
I was in dire need of The Village.
I needed in-person, compassionate support. I needed trustworthy people to look me in the eye and tell me to hand the baby over and go upstairs and cry. I needed normally manly men to give my husband a hug and take him to the movies and give him two measly hours to release his shoulders of the weight of the world. I needed someone to play with my three-year-old and keep him distracted and happy while I tried to figure out how to keep a roof over his head. I needed someone to get them all out of the house so I could scream and holler in peace. I needed The Village. Only I didn’t know how to request it.
Thankfully, we heard murmurs from The Village. There were hot meals and a few of play dates, every bite and minute of peace were cherished. Friends helped with the kids while we made terrifying trips to the hospital and gloomy visits with the neurologist. We were grateful each time and couldn’t be more appreciative.
I wish I’d had the presence of mind to be more open about our needs. I wish I had been able to say that we required more. I wish I had been able to vocalize that we went from a gritty couple with loads of fortitude to feeling overwhelmed and under-qualified to handle our own lives. Had we been able to ask for more or lose the facade of being okay, I know our Village would have welcomed us into its helpful graces.
Looking back over the past year, I have learned many lessons. Here I'll share these two:
1. Always be honest and ask for help.
In the future, I will rally The Village the moment I need it and soon enough to keep that feeling of anguish from taking over my days. I won’t take advantage of anyone’s kindness but I will be honest if I have an absolute need.
2. Being a human being is isolating.
No other person on Earth can understand exactly what, when, and why you feel the emotion you do. Being a mother takes this isolation to a whole new level as you wade through the depths of new, ever-changing responsibilities while your body takes a turn for the worse and your mind becomes sleep-deprived mush. We are often desperate for true connections through this parental journey. But in our desperation, we forget to seek out friends who can lessen the burden--- if only for a little while.
So with these lessons, I am making an effort to be genuine and thoughtful. When I ask “How are you?” I truly want to know. I may even ask more in-depth questions, the ones we normally avoid for our own comfort, as I figure out how I can help a friend who needs it.
As parents, when life’s struggles become heavy, we are not only feeling the weight of our own sorrow but also mourning the loss of normalcy for our children. Any one of my friends could be the one to need a few hours away from the watchful, hopeful eyes of their four-year-old. Perhaps to deal with a surprising diagnosis, an unexpected separation or a loss of any kind. I will make every commitment to remembering this need as I strive to be a member of The Village.
This essay is not about complaining or being unappreciative, it is about having the presence of mind to realize when our friends are in serious need of our support. But, also the clarity and strength to know when to ask for help. It's about knowing how and when to step outside our norm to help someone, even if it's uncomfortable to ask or you're compromising your routine to do so. This post is about realizing that I can inconvenience myself for a day or two to help someone whose life is in upheaval. It is about recognizing: The Village starts with me.
This piece originally appeared on LaurenDillard.co's Life By Conscious Design.