Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting the Help You Need Part 1. The Art of “The Ask”

Anyone who has read more than a handful of our Secrets posts knows how strongly we believe that all families with newborns need and deserve help. With JenB’s new addition only days away, we've been thinking a great deal about the delicate balance between providing practical support and space for family time. We realized that, for all our rants about the importance of getting help, we hadn’t written a post on how best to get that help. In this short series, we’ll provide some tips to help you get to “the ask” (a concise and complete request for help) without sacrificing your pride or privacy. Today, we’ll share some ideas about how to ask for help effectively. Next time, we’ll help you deal with well-intentioned but misguided friends and family that manage only to make things more stressful.

As is true of many of her pragmatic and independent peers, JenB is not one to ask for help lightly, but she is more than willing to seek support when it is needed. Naturally organized, she and her husband set up their primary and back-up support systems early in the pregnancy. We encourage all expectant parents to do the same. As we’ve explained in an earlier post, taking care of a baby is a full time job, leaving little time for anything else. Friends and family can step in to help with the following necessities:
  • Running errands

  • Preparing meals and snacks

  • Grocery shopping

  • Household chores

  • Taking other children on walks or to the park

  • Sharing ideas and providing emotional support

  • Pet care

  • Outdoor/garden care

  • Driving (especially if mom has a c-section)

  • Being “on call” in case something comes up
With all this need, asking for help can be a little intimidating. You may be wondering how you can make “the ask” something that sounds reasonable. Here are a few ideas.

Be proactive
Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, and things are out of hand. Make a plan while you’re still fully functional to keep things on track. It’s much easier to mow a lawn with only a couple weeks of growth, to clean a kitchen with only one load of dirty dishes, and to walk a dog that has been outside every day.

Be realistic
Our closest friends and family are wonderful sources of support and we feel comfortable leaning on those we love. But, before we ask for their help, we need to think hard about their lives and other responsibilities. Divide your requests among as many people as is practical, matching each request to the appropriate amount of time and effort that makes sense for each person. If you’re lucky enough to have a relative who can take off work and visit you, they can take on a lot of tasks but they’ll need a break once in awhile. Your busy friends can bring over a meal or drop off some groceries they picked up when they were shopping for themselves. Your neighbor can walk your dog or mow the lawn.

Be specific
Whenever you need others to pitch in to help, it is always best to be very specific about what you need. When someone offers to help, instead of asking for “help with meals,” ask for “something simple for dinner on Wednesday.” Tasks seem a lot more reasonable when they are clearly described.

Be organized
If you are fortunate enough to have many offers of help (and we certainly hope you do!), you’ll want to keep tasks and helpers organized so that you don’t end up with redundancies, confusion, or way too much food! You can easily make a grid on paper or in a spreadsheet with chores/tasks down the side and days of the week across the top. You can use the list above to get you started. Let friends and family sign up themselves or get one of them to organize the group for you.

I know that asking for help can be tough but you’ll find that even a few tasks taken off your list can make a big difference. You’ll find that most people will want to help. Many of your loved ones understand how exhausting those first weeks are and they’ll want to make things easier for you, if not for the joy of giving, then maybe because they know you’ll “owe them one” when it is their turn.

Next time: Part 2: Coping with “Help” that Isn’t Helpful


  1. As a second time mom, with a 3 year old, I knew to ask for help this time but the hardest part is that last one, being organized...sometimes, in order to get help to be helpful...what I did is to have a good trusted friend (who is also a mom) come over to your house for the whole day and just basically be there at your beck and call. It is best to choose someone who is fairly independent(i.e someone to empty the dishwasher who can figure out where things go instead of asking YOU!) and someone who keeps their own house similar to your own.

  2. I use the website www.carecalendar.org to organize help for new parents. Not only is it free, but you can request help with meals, housework, errands, driving, older kids, etc, and it's all organized for you on an online calendar that anyone can sign up on, with just the simple login information for your calendar. It works wonderfully and I look forward to using it for myself, after my third baby is born next summer!

  3. I am a stay at home mom. My husband works full time.

    How do I positively encourage him to do small things like putting the baby's clothes he took off baby into the laundry basket or serving the dinner I just prepared while I nurse baby to sleep? Thank you.

  4. I hope that the second part of this series was helpful for you to find positive ways to talk to your husband. If not, let us know.