We Tell Moms To Ask For Help (But We Don't Really Mean It)

Like almost every mom I know, I loathe asking for help. Something deep inside me — buried, no doubt, by years of social grooming that wired "help" and "weakness" as synonyms in my brain — prohibits me from opening the jaw I'm always clenching and admitting that yes I need help as a mom with a baby. And if someone asks if I need help — say, when I'm locked out of my apartment holding a 4-year-old, 5-month-old, and a newly-delivered pizza — my innate, automatic response is to lie. Help? Me? What are you saying? Are you saying I can't handle being a mom? Are you saying my children are somehow better off with someone who wouldn't, oh, I don't know, accidentally lock themselves out of their apartment? Do I look like I need help?

Jim Burns was honest when he reached out for help, though. "As the father-to-be, I’m teetering on a fence of emotions," Burns wrote on Meal — a crowdsourcing site that allows people to schedule meal deliveries for those in need — before requesting elaborate dinners and top-shelf snacks to be delivered to his wife, Alex, and their soon-to-be family of three. "One of the things I’m most afraid of is not getting a great deal of sleep and as a result not being in the best frame of mind to offer my wife the support she needs to recover from the child-birthing process,” he wrote, noting people could leave the soft cheeses in a cooler outside if they didn't want to interrupt the family.

Why have a baby if you need help? went the general critique.

But his radically forthcoming call for help earned Burns the scorn of the internet, which collectively took wild offense to his admittedly fancy recipe solicitation. "BUT THERE WERE 30+ SPECIFIC MEALS WITH RECIPES," Twitter user @JJFromTheBronx tweeted, along with a screen caption of Burns's requests, which ranged from squash and carrot stew with quinoa to roasted eggplant salad and salmon sweet potato cakes. The scorn was rooted in the idea that these parents — who presumably planned to have a baby — had no right to ask for such elaborate assistance. Why have a baby if you need help? went the general critique. Don't you know how to plan properly? Can't you do this on your own... as, you know, parents?

Can't you just "maternal instinct" your way through sleep deprivation and massive life change? Photo credit: enetstan/Shutterstock

And if you do receive help, the message was that you should be grateful for whatever kind of support you get instead of asking someone to cater to your very specific, arugula-loving needs.

This is America, after all — the only industrialized nation without mandatory paid family leave. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, people! You know, the one where one in four new moms return to work a mere two weeks postpartum. This is where the stars, stripes, and eagles fly! Where child care is unaffordable for more than seven in 10 American families, where one in nine women experience postpartum depression, and where moms earn $0.71 for every $1 dads make. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Grin and bear it. Be grateful you have a family at all. That's, after all, the American way.

Instead of looking at Burns's requests and saying, "How dare he?" we should be looking at every mother in our lives — ourselves included — and asking, Why doesn't every mom feel comfortable asking for support from her village? Why aren't we asking sooner, before things get so overwhelming?

Why did I navigate postpartum depression, a full-time job, my relationship, breastfeeding, and caring for a 4-month-old and a 5-month-old under the guise of complete self-sufficiency when I should have blown the goddamn elk horn? I write about maternal wellbeing as a professional, why did I choose to uphold the unrealistic expectation that motherhood isn't an all-hands-on-deck situation, and not just for new parents but for parents of toddlers, kindergarteners, middle schoolers, and parents preparing for their children's high school graduation? Whose water was I carrying in deciding to gut it out?

I was quietly dealing with depression when I could have been asking for soft cheeses and peanut butter energy balls and Italian antipasto!

How did I fall into that old trap, believing that we must all stay sequestered on our deserted mom islands, looking across a sea of social expectations and internalized self-doubt at all the other moms on their islands, thinking we're better off if we keep to ourselves and avoid asking, or offering, help?

I was quietly dealing with depression when I could have been asking for soft cheeses and peanut butter energy balls and Italian antipasto!

Burns was undoubtably coming from a place of privilege — as a soon-to-be parent woefully unaware of our culture's perception of parenthood, as a man who has been told, since birth, that he is owed the best of the best, and as someone financially comfortable enough to assume the majority of people eat the meals he requested. But we shouldn't be chastising this family for doing what we, more often than not, fail to do on a regular basis. We should be more like Burns — the now-infamous Meal Train Dad — and ask, clearly, specifically, and with no remorse, for the things we need.

So: I needed a double chocolate chip brownie, a glass of wine, and for no one to talk to me for at least 12 hours after my son was born. I needed a therapist, medication, and more time off when I was suffering from postpartum depression. And when I accidentally locked myself out of my home sans phone and with my two children and a fresh pizza in hand, yes, I needed help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.