Women have been trained to do everything ourselves. We think we're not supposed to ask for help -- and let’s face it, we often don’t like to.
When my husband suggested that my mother-in-law come by for the day to watch my son so I could get work done, I immediately said, “Oh, no, I don’t want her to have to drive all that way.”
“Women believe that we’re supposed to handle everything ourselves, which is often at the root of why we’re unhappy,” says Randy Kamen Gredinger, EdD, a Wayland, Mass., psychologist, life coach, and blogger specializing in women’s issues. “We do everything, and feel unappreciated, but then we don’t want to ask for help. We need to be more collaborative.”
Today, make up your mind that it’s time to stop doing it all and start asking for the help you need.
Here's how to do that without screaming, nagging, or whining.
Ask Your Partner
If you need help, approach your partner with your problem, and a plan. “Honey, I’m burned out, tired, and stressed. I need some extra time for me. Can we find one night a week (or a couple of hours on the weekend) when you can cook dinner and get the kids ready for bed, so I can go to the gym/take a yoga class/have a facial with a friend?”
What you shouldn’t do, says Amy Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family and founder of the Mojo Mom web site, is apologize. “Don’t ask, ‘Can I do this?’ Say, ‘I need this time, and it will make me a better wife and a better mom. Let’s figure out how we can make it happen.'”
Ask Your Kids
In Kamen Gredinger’s house, kids start doing chores when they're toddlers. “It’s not negotiable,” she says. “If you wait to give them responsibilities until they’re in school, it’s a big mistake. In other countries, they aren’t screaming at their children to do things; they just know they’re expected to do their share.”
Pick age-appropriate chores for your kids and let them do it on their own. They probably won’t do it perfectly the first time, or even the tenth time, but if you intervene and make them feel like they’re not doing it right, their pride in doing it all by themselves goes out the window.
Here are examples:
- Pick up their own clothes and put them in the hamper.
- Put toys in the toy box.
- Set the table.
- Help empty the dishwasher and put dishes away.
- Clean up toys in their room or playroom.
- Put laundry in the washer or dryer.
- Help load the dishwasher.
- Cut up vegetables for dinner with adult supervision.
- Clear the table.
- Bring in groceries from the car and put them away.
- Fold laundry.
- Make their bed.
- Take out the trash.
Age 8 and up:
- Take responsibility for keeping their bedroom clean.
- Help take care of a pet.
- Help prepare simple meals.
- Rake leaves.
- Do a load of laundry.
Break It Down
If you give your child a big job, like cleaning up his or her room or the playroom, break it down into manageable tasks. Post those tasks on the back of their bedroom door, so they can refer to it as they clean.
I used to ask my 4-year-old to clean the playroom and her eyes would glaze over. “It’s too hard!” she’d moan. “It wasn’t too hard to get all the toys out in the first place,” I’d counter. She wasn’t impressed.
But when I started asking her to “put all the dress-up clothes in the box,” that was a bite-sized chunk she could handle. Then I’d say, “Put all the dolls back in the dollhouse.” That wasn’t too bad. The other day, all by herself, she kept picking up small items, moving them to the right spot, and organizing toy bins until the room was spotless. When I regained consciousness, I was thrilled.
Ask Your Friends
It’s easy to forget that you have more resources for help than just your immediate family. No, you can’t ask your BFF to empty your dishwasher or fold the laundry, but you can ask her if the kids can come over for a sleepover next weekend so you can have a night to yourself (or with your partner). You might be surprised at how willing she’ll be to help out.
“One of the fundamental things that makes people feel good -- one of the quickest ways to turn a bad mood into a good one -- is to help somebody else,” says Margaret Moore, co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass. “We’re all wired to feel good by helping someone else, so don’t look at it as a burden. Call your friend and say, ‘I’m burned out, I need a break. Could you help out by taking the kids for a few hours this weekend, and then maybe we can take turns?’”
And whether you’re getting support from your partner, your kids, or your friends, make sure to show your appreciation. “Let them see that they’ve done something to make a difference in your life," Moore says. "Let them see your eyes shine.”