Yesterday I alluded to moms who don’t have a supportive spouse: single moms, military wives whose husbands are deployed, and even women married to jerks who think having a stay-at-home wife means they can abdicate any responsibility for the care of their children. Even for many of us with supportive husbands, life looks pretty different than our grandparents’ generation, when everyone was raising families in the context of family and community. Since becoming a mother, I have always lived hundreds, and now thousands, of miles away from my parents and siblings. When you move so often that each of your kids is born in a different state, as we did, you don’t always have a dependable community to turn to for help for those immediate, physical crises we all have from time to time. All moms, and especially those without help in the home, need to be purposeful about building real friendships. We’ve talked about friendship before (here, here, here, and here), and we had my friend Sandy, a veteran military wife, talk about being and helping a single mom for a season. So I won’t belabor the point that we should all can and should proactively reach out to the lonely or overwhelmed sahm in our neighborhood, church, Bible study, or playground. (If you don’t know any isolated sahms, you need to look harder.) I will point out that the sacrifice of reaching out to a new friend almost always blesses me unexpectedly. Building community is a service project that redounds to you.
I’ve probably blogged enough about how practicing hospitality–having people into our homes–is a huge friendship builder. I’ve also found that asking for and giving sacrificial help instantly deepens the bond of friendship. Our church community group once had a discussion about whether we felt comfortable calling each other to get a ride to the airport. Though we all were friends, most of us felt that that was too much to ask! Then I broke my foot (and re-broke it 11 days later) and realized I needed to ask my community group for help. Some of our group members live an hour away from me. It was humbling to see how many of them showed up at my house with a meal last summer. So a few months later, when one of their kids broke his arm, I found myself driving 45 minutes to drop off a meal for them. Now I think either of us would be willing to ask for a ride to the airport! It often takes a medical emergency (a broken foot, a new baby, a particularly bad stomach flu when the fridge is already empty) to get me to ask people for help, but after I’ve done it once, it’s easy to reciprocate in kind. I often say that I’m not really friends with someone until we’ve been in each other’s kitchens. Maybe I could add I’m not really good friends with someone until we’ve exchanged sacrificial favors–watched each other’s kids or run an errand for each other.
Some moms truly are so alone that there is no one they can ask to watch the kids during a doctor’s appointment. I’ve certainly had my kids lined up on the floor during my annual exam or while getting a dental check-up shortly after moving to a new town. It is depressing and so, so hard. But many of us actually do have people we could ask for help in such a situation but we just don’t want to trouble. It sounds selfish to “use” a friend, but it actually indicates a closeness that you don’t have with a mere acquaintance. I have never been turned down when I asked a retired mom from book club or a CBS classmate or a Sunday School teacher, “Could you please watch the kids while I go to the OB-GYN? My husband can’t get off work, and my son is too old to come along with me anymore.” Most of my friends were happy to be asked. I rarely have friends ask me to pick up the kids for them or borrow an ingredient for dinner, but I am always thrilled that they feel they know me well enough to ask (even if I can’t help that that particular time). I can see how a single mom might feel that all she’s ever do is asking for help, which is why I’d probably go out of my way to ask her for help so that she feels things are mutual.
How many friends do you have who you could ask to run you to the airport or pick up your kids for you? Do you have a support network of friends right now? How did you grow to feel close enough to ask for help?