Motherhood is loud. Very loud. Both from within ourselves and in our every day surroundings. It’s a beautiful chaos that we learn to love.
Even though I gave birth to my son well over a year ago and have grown used to this beautiful chaos, I catch myself in recurring conversations with fellow new moms about the noisiness in particular of those first few months. They are truly the hardest, in part because of this. With one of the biggest transformations of our lives comes an outpour of support, but too often this takes the form of others saying and doing what they want and not necessarily what is actually needed.
The way in which I give and receive help has completely changed since becoming a mother. For starters, I finally accept it. And because I finally accept it, I’m quicker to give it back, too. Help has become something that used to be seen as a sign of weakness to a sign of strength – something that hardly came around to something that I can now consistently count on.
I credit this needed change in perspective to one little phrase that emphasizes listening instead of assuming. My community of mothers has a habit of asking: How can I help you?
When I first got bombarded with this question after complaining over who knows what, I was a bit taken back. I had been in the habit of hearing and saying “Let me know if you need anything!” to which I would shrug off, say thanks, and keep my door closed.
The first question is far more impactful. It’s direct and demands an immediate answer, emphasizing that the person asking is ready and eager to help. It acknowledges that help is wanted and shifts the conversation to finding a solution. It made me start thinking about what is helpful and meaningful to me, and secondly, it taught me how to advocate for that by way of having to actually respond.
It also gives us new moms a blank slate to define our support system. Some of us are smothered by the loneliness of tending to a newborn at home, just longing for visitors to come and break this silence. Others are clinging for privacy to unapologetically do nothing but rest, heal and bond. Some of us crave nothing more than a hot meal, while others want nothing more than an extra set of hands around the house. Some of us seek conversation and stories of hope about how much easier it gets, while others seek nothing more than solidarity over our current struggles.
It’s impossible to know how best to support a woman in motherhood if we don’t first give her a chance to experience her own motherhood. In those first few months, the best thing we can do is simply ensure that our words and actions follow her lead and do not attempt to take the lead.
This means letting her ask questions rather than questioning her. This means sharing ideas and solutions with her rather than at her. This means relentlessly supporting her decisions if she gives you the privilege of being part of them rather than trying to influence them to your beliefs.
And one of the easiest ways to do this is to first ask what kind of support she needs: How can I help you?
At first, there may not be an answer as she draws a blank. But I promise, just by posing that question, you are teaching her to use her own voice and you are reminding her that she does not have to do this alone. And remember, moms, help is a two-way street. We can’t expect it if we don’t know how to ask for it, and we will have difficulty accepting it if we fall short of also giving it.