Ever since I was a child I was very independent. I was the oldest sibling in my household and I helped out my mother with the younger kids. I started babysitting them at age 9 and started babysitting my neighbours at age 10. Between babysitting and my allowance I started buying my own toiletries and clothes. I was very responsible for my age. In high school I was able to easily keep on top of my school work, while working part time and competing on many sports teams. I moved away from our family home to go to university at age 18. Then at 20 I became a mother for the fist time. A single mother. This is when everything changed.
Becoming a parent and being humbled
I had Kiara, my oldest daughter, on July 28 which was luckily in the middle of summer vacation. I was between my second and third year of university. I knew I wanted to be a Veterinarian, so I still had at least 6 years of university ahead of me. But, I had a huge problem: the earliest Kiara could get into daycare was at 4 months of age, and she was only 1 month old when my school started up again.
I was faced with dropping out of school (which meant I would lose my sponsorships and scholarships) or find a way to make it work! I realized I could not do this alone. I had to ask for help.
Asking for help when you are a strong independent woman, that is not used to relying on others, is a very humbling experience. But dropping out of school was just not an option for me. My childhood best friend offered to help. She moved in with me and took care of Kiara full time for those first few months before she could get into daycare. I literally could not have stayed in school without her help.
Fast forward 5 years and I found myself in a similar situation. Expecting my second child, Jabari, at the end of my 3rd year of veterinary school. Again he came in the summer, however in the final year of vet school we were no longer in the classroom, but in clinical rotations. And we didn't have a summer vacation, the rotations started up as soon as 3rd year ended. I scheduled my rotations to have the first couple off, and this is when he was born. But again I was faced with going back to school (now with a very demanding curriculum) with a brand new infant. I had moved to a different province to go to vet school, so I had no family or support system there to fall back on. I also had clinical rotations to complete that required me to be on call after hours. Again, I knew I could not possibly do this alone. This time it was my sister who stepped in to help. She moved in with me and stayed that whole summer to watch my kids until my son was old enough to get into daycare. I scheduled every single rotation that I needed to be on call during that summer when I knew I had after hours help. It was horrible. There were many long days that I would burst into tears at school because I missed my brand new baby so much. But we made it through, and I complete all my required rotations to graduate. Again, I know I would never have been able to do it without her help. I did it: I had made it through two degrees and two babies without missing any school. But it was all because of the help that I received at those two critical times.
Asking for help doesn't mean you are failing or weak
I took pride in the fact that I could do most things on my own. That I didn't need anybody's assistance. That I could support myself and do everything myself. At first learning how to ask for help made me feel like a failure. But I had no choice, I had to learn to do it out of necessity. And each time got a little easier. Over the years I have had to ask for help many times, for many things. This does not mean I am weak, it means I have grown wiser. I know when something is beyond my ability or resources. Learning to ask for help also has made me want to return the favour and help others.
Recently asking for help has looked like:
flexible co-parenting schedules with my ex-husband
getting career advice and learning from peers
reaching out to a therapist when I felt overwhelmed emotionally and stuck
making doctors appointment for my children when something felt off with their development or behaviours
These things have all drastically improved my quality of life and reduced my stress levels!
In conclusion: Asking for help creates connection
People who care about you will want to see you succeed! It may even make them feel good about themselves to be able to help you. Being the receiver of help will also make you more compassionate and want to help others in the future. So please step outside that comfort zone, swallow that pride for a second, and give it a try!
How to find the courage to ask for help:
Remind yourself that we all need help sometimes: reaching out does not mean you are weak. It means you are strong enough to face whatever uncomfortable situation you are dealing with head on, and do what needs to be done to get through it. It means you are wise enough to realize that you don't have all the answers. It means you are willing to be vulernable, which is the only way that you will be able to grow and learn from others.
Find the right words to start: Be open about how you are feeling and what challenges you are facing. Start simple: "I am struggling with ________" or "I need help with _______." Sometimes that is all that is needed to start a dialogue with the right person.
Please share with me below your own story of when someone really stepped up and stepped in to help when you needed it the most! What has it helped teach you?