“Help me please…”
His little voice was shaky from the tears that had preceded this simple request. After trying hard to put the tiny straw into the juice box for a few minutes, he was frustrated and had shouted “I can’t do this!” before melting into a puddle of emotion.
Softly, I prompted “Mommy, help me please.”
Silence. Then more frustrated tears.
Until he was ready to ask.
How often do we wait until we’re overly frustrated with something we can’t do before we reach out and ask for help?
Admitting when we aren’t capable of doing something is hard and can even be pretty scary (especially something we should able to do). After all, we want to come across as capable, have-it-all-together people who offer help to others – not admit we need it ourselves.
Teaching my three-year-old to ask for help instead of escalating into an emotional tantrum was a healthy reminder for me that we need others and they need us. And that we may have to ask.
Help me please…
These three words are a powerful invitation to collaborate and accept something from someone else.
This month, we’re going to be exploring the value of collaboration and how we can work together to be even better, starting with asking and inviting.
Letting Others In
Asking for help takes self-awareness, humility, and a willingness to let others in. Let’s look at what gets in the way of collaboration so we can start reaching out and inviting others into our lives. Here are three false beliefs that you might have adopted that we’re going to debunk:
1. It’s easier (and faster) if I just do this myself
Maybe you have done this task a million times – like tying a child’s shoe or going grocery shopping. In fact, when you’re already late and rushing out the door, it may seem impossible to wait for your five-year-old to tie his shoe. Or when your husband offers to swing by the grocery store, you assume he’ll buy the wrong milk or forget half the list, so you reply: “Thanks, but I’m on my way there now…” even when you have a zillion other things to get done and could really use the extra help.
There is something powerful in stepping back, creating space, and allowing our children to struggle as they build these important self-skills (tying shoes and asking for help if they can’t). We build trust in our relationships when we can instead say “Yes that would be wonderful to have you swing by the store and I’ll text you my list.” And then letting go of the part that’s done “wrong” or undone…because at least part of it IS DONE!
2. I should be able to do this myself. I don’t need anyone else
When we’re up against a challenge, we can either rise to the occasion or crumble. But what about the times we choose to rise and still can’t figure it out? The times we “should” know how to do something or when it just isn’t working out the way we thought it would. What then?
Last month, we examined our “shoulding” and how the internal pressure of blaming ourselves can turning shaming our character. Ouch! We’re too talented and busy to put up with this kind of self-sabotage!! We have important work to do, babies to feed, children to raise, lives to lead. And sometimes we CAN’T do it alone. So stop trying so hard and simply ASK.
3. I am bothering other people when I ask them for help
Think of the last time a good friend or family member genuinely asked you for help with something important (not just something they didn’t want to do and could have!). How did it feel to be invited into their life in this moment? Take a moment to recall the impact on the other person when you were able to help them. I’m guessing it all was very positive with no room for feeling bothered or annoyed…
When we know we need help and DON’T ask, we are denying another person the opportunity to care for us and love us better. We are choosing isolation and pride over connection and support. If we don’t want our children to do this, why do we accept this in our own lives? Even if it isn’t a convenient time to ask or be asked, you are never a bother if you need someone else. That’s what relationships are for and how they are built. Keep asking so you can keep building.
Beyond Parallel Play
If we believe that we have to do it all, we accept a self-limiting and isolated reality. Instead of opening up our lives to others and sparking collaboration, we build our own micro-kingdoms that we have the pressure of maintaining and fixing alone. There has to be a better way, and indeed there is!
After we identify what’s getting in the way and preventing possible collaboration, it’s time to change our inner script. We can learn a lot from watching how children develop and notice the similarities in our own lives. Let’s look at three stages of play and how children learn to connect and collaborate.
When young children are learning to play, they start by observing each other, then playing side-by-side in what developmental psychologists call parallel play. Here, they will typically play with similar toys and even begin copying each other, doing the same things, but not interacting. While they are around each other, they have very little contact and don’t actually play together.
Does your life look like this? Always observing and taking mental notes of what others in your social circle and career field are doing, but not actually interacting? As adults, our parallel play takes the form of trolling social media and the internet to see what our “competition” is doing so we can either (a) do better or (b) compare ourselves and feel unworthy. Both are super unhealthy and don’t actually change our lives to make them more fulfilling.
Children shift to associative play where they begin to engage with each other, but don’t have a common goal. They may play with the same toys or even trade toys as they actively talk to each other, even if there are no set rules of play yet. Here, we can see the ground-work being laid for cooperation, problem-solving, and developing language through social interaction.
Maybe this sounds more like you, reaching out to others more casually, without any deep or significant connection: Going through your day and engaging with others in transactional relationships (e.g. calling to make an appointment, buying a coffee, depositing a check at the ATM), without anything deeper. While this way of living can get a lot of things done, it’s often lonely and can be overwhelming.
Finally, children learn cooperative play where they both are engaged with other children and the activities they are sharing. They have established the necessary social skills to navigate more organized play with common rules and specific tasks the group works on together. Friendships are developed through this active interchange between children as they collaborate more through play.
How many of your adult relationships reflect this sense of cooperation v. competition? A good way to gauge this is based on how many people you have in your life that you could reach out to for help or be there for when they need support. In our lives where we are more connected electronically that we ever have been, we need actually in-real-life relationships and people to nurture us and DO LIFE with us.
That is one of the main drivers for the community we have built here at The Makers PlaceÔ – no one should have to do it alone or feel overwhelmed when we can come together to support each other, collaborate around big ideas, help our children grow and thrive in creative environments, and feel held and known.