Somewhere along the line, mothers have been told they can handle it all. Taking life slowly, one simple task at a time, is often nothing more than a romantic concept, entertained in those few sweet minutes between lying their heads on a pillow and drifting off to sleep. Modern living has started to move quickly, demanding many women to juggle a career on top of caring for their children, nurturing their relationships, and handling basic domestic responsibilities. Mothers have become master-level multitaskers, providing alone what used to be achieved through the cooperation and care of entire communities.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve seen firsthand what is required to get it all done. To do so, with even a touch of grace, I’ve personally needed a great deal of support along the way. And while the need has varied, depending on how well-resourced each woman is with partnership, community support, and cash flow, I’ve encountered many mothers who felt the crushing overwhelm of this overload, just like me. Yet, what I also noticed, early on, was that very few of them seemed to ask for the help they so desperately needed. It was like each was existing as a self-made island, stranded and in need. Somehow, even though they all whole-heartedly knew in their minds that it does, indeed, “take a village”, I saw a lot of women choosing to suffer alone.
I started to wonder why. Why was it that asking for support seemed an exception rather than the norm? Why was it usually reserved for those unfiltered moments, when a woman was depleted and at her edge of breakdown, that she called on the support from those around her? Why did women not consider it a necessity to ensure her own well-being? And why, even when I sincerely offered my support to the fellow mothers in the community, was I most often met with an “Oh, thank you. It’s ok. I’m fine” (when they weren’t)?
As I came up against my own discomfort in asking for support, I began to realize that it wasn’t personal for any of us. It was learned behavior, where the hardships of motherhood had been normalized. Rather than risk the discomfort of being vulnerable, we’d been taught to play it safe. While it varies from one culture to the next, a popular modern narrative is that our strength is in radical self-reliance, rather than communion. We’ve been taught that asking for support is an imposition. We fear being pegged as a burden to the people in our lives who have schedules, challenges, and obligations of their own. We’re afraid to expose our areas of struggle, our darkest places of neediness, and of portraying a less-than-perfect image.
In a sense, we’ve become village-less humans, who’ve forgotten that we’re wired for connection, and that we find it by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston says, “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” She says humans are here for connection and that, “In order for connection to happen, we need to allow ourselves to be seen”. We must know we’re worthy of connection.
As mothers, when we allow ourselves to step into our vulnerability and ask for support, not only do we fill our own cups, but we open the door for others to do the same. In showing our humanness fearlessly, we take the first steps towards true self-compassion and relate from a sense of wholeness to those we love. We model authenticity and show how asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, a sign of inadequacy, or a badge of failure. On the contrary, it shows that we can recognize our limits, prioritize our well-being, and acknowledge our own worthiness, even as we’re managing the needs of others.
The hard truth is that, as mothers, we can’t and shouldn’t be expected to do it all. We can try, but, ultimately, when we try to do it all, it’s at the expense of something else. I think it was said best by Publilius Syrus, a slave in the 1st century B.C. He’s said, “To do two things at once is to do neither.” Our human brains are built for single-tasking and haven’t evolved to process multiple streams of data simultaneously. How can we be fully present for anything when are thoughts are continually fragmented? How can we show up for ourselves and the people we love, when our system is teetering on the edge of burnout? When we live under the constant stress of responsibility and “too much”, our nervous system never has the opportunity to rest and reset, causing a decline in both cognitive function and a sense of well-being.
Though, the learning curve has been steep, I’ve realized that leaning hard into my vulnerability is the key to my peace of mind. I’d like to model, as best I can, what is possible when we’re able to face it bravely and move through it to the other side. I’ve learned to ask for help shamelessly, as well as how to offer it sincerely. Many times, both my asking and offering are met with a “no”. Still, despite the discomfort, I ask some more. Because here is what I’ve also realized:
More than I don’t want that uneasy feeling of vulnerability, I do want to be a woman that supports others in finding their way back to connection. I want to encourage a worldview that values slowing down over going hard, rest over burnout, and, most importantly, lifting each other up, even when it’s not easy or convenient. In the short time I have with my son by my side, I want to clear my plate as much as possible, even if just slightly, so we can enjoy each other to the fullest. I know we are both worthy.
When we begin to walk freely through this revolving door of giving and receiving true support to those in our community, we become part of the change. In a modern cultural climate that perpetuates rugged individualism, disconnection, and isolation, asking for help offers us all an opportunity to foster a sense of belonging. By questioning these cultural values, we start a conversation, and this is the first step in redefining them.
Women, it’s time to let out a big sigh, allow your shoulders drop, and ask for what you need. You’re worthy too.