A week after we came home with my fifth baby, a neighbor texted me to say congratulations and asked if she could make our family a dinner. We are lucky to live in a welcoming and friendly community: the type with neighbors who wave as you drive by, keep an eye on your house when you’re away, and will bring food over after you have a baby, even if they don’t know you super well.
In the past, I usually smile and say thank you, but then decline the offer of a meal. Because I don’t want to impose. Because I feel I have “enough” help. Because I face enough judgement already as matriarch of a large family. Because, most importantly, I have wanted to seem like “we are fine.” Like I can handle this. Like I don’t need help.
This time, right as I was beginning to politely decline, I instead did something radical.
I stopped myself.
Because the truth was, I was not fine. I was exhausted from not sleeping and recovering from an emergency C-section. I now had 5 kids, 4 of whom ate real food, and no plans for dinner. Why was I going to refuse help? For pride? For my ego? For the appearance of strength? Here was a fellow mom offering to make me food not because she didn’t think I could but because she knew exactly what I was going through. I had been looking at it all wrong. She wasn’t offering because I couldn’t. She was offering because she could. And, most importantly, because she wanted to.
This time I said yes. And that’s when I decided that not only was I going to accept her offer, but I was going to change my stubborn mom ways. I was going to say yes to anyone who offered help. I was going to be a “yes” mom.
Learning to Say Yes
My husband texted me from the grocery store the next day. He ran into another neighbor who saw him buying frozen pizza and (probably feeling sorry for my kids) offered to bring over lunch.
“Say yes,” I texted back.
A coworker asked if I needed help with an unfinished project while I was gone. I said yes. My vaccinated in-laws asked if they could take the kids for the night. I said yes. A grandmother down the street wanted to know if I wanted the extra diapers her grandson grew out of. I said yes.
A friend asked if she could do anything. Normally, I would have given the same line that also happens to be a lie: “Thanks, but I’m fine!”
This time, however, what I actually needed in that moment was a coffee and a 60 second chat with another mom, even from 6 feet away. I told her this. We had a sidewalk date in between nursing sessions and I sipped on the hot coffee that she so kindly supplied.
“I had been looking at it all wrong. She wasn’t offering because I couldn’t. She was offering because she could.”
Saying Yes, Family-Style
My quest to say yes soon also extended to my own children. For instance, one morning, my oldest, age seven, asked if he could make oatmeal breakfast.
Knowing that it would take him forever to read the directions, measure things out, and get breakfast on the table in a timely manner, and that he would most likely make a gigantic mess in the process, my initial reaction was to say a firm no. No, no, and no.
But then I remembered my promise—so I said yes. And while he did indeed take forever and make a huge mess (he is only seven, after all) he also made breakfast while I nursed the baby and gave instruction from the couch. A breakfast that all my other kids actually ate. A breakfast that he has not gotten better at making and takes pride in making. All because I let myself say yes.
My journey to saying yes hasn’t been easy. In fact, by saying yes, I am actually giving up control and acknowledging that I can’t do everything. For a lot of women, this is excruciatingly difficult to do. We are used to having control. Or at least appearing to have control. We’re supposed to be in control, at all times. And when we aren’t, it is tempting to pick up the guise of “I’m fine” in order to not appear weak.
Motherhood only amplifies those experiences and feelings. And by refusing help and acknowledging that you just can’t do it all, we only increase our feelings of inadequacy and failure on days when it all falls apart. Because there will be days when it all falls apart, even with help. But there will be even more of them if you try to go at it alone.
No matter what stage of the parenting journey, we all need help at times. Acknowledging this, I have realized, is a character strength and not a character weakness.
Saying yes has taught me to let go. Saying yes has taught me that I am not enough sometimes. Saying yes has taught me to lower my expectations of myself. And in time, when I’m in a better routine, I’m looking forward to making dinner for someone else and giving another mom the opportunity to learn how to be a “yes mom” too.