Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

Single parent would like some help, not the cavalry

DEAR CAROLYN: My husband walked out on my children and me a few years ago. He supports the kids financially, but in all other ways he's a ghost to us. In the very early days, I found single parenthood positively grueling and I asked my family for whatever sort of help they could give. What I got was a TON of help: meals brought to us, overnight babysitters, my brothers took the kids to sporting events to keep them busy, my sister dropped by twice a week to help with dinner duty. It was all wonderful, until it wasn't. It was too many people in my space, questioning my kids' well-being, and ultimately it made me feel crazy and incompetent. I also did not like the message it sent to my sons, that being under Mom's solo care = awful crisis. So after a few weeks, I asked them all to stop helping. I said it nicely — "Thanks so much for all the help, it's time for me and the kids to practice our new normal." And the message was received, and the help abruptly stopped. But now we are back in the weeds and I would like to reach out to some of the same people, but without having them try to take over our lives again. Do you think I can finesse that?

Don't Want the Cavalry

DON'T WANT THE CAVALRY: I'm sorry that your husband was a bust and that you're overwhelmed again.

I can understand, too, why you see your experience as a warning, but I think it also works well as assurance: You know people you can lean on, you know the downsides of that and you know they'll listen to you. You know how to say, "Thank you, now please leave me alone."

That's actually pretty great, no?

If possible, this time, tap only the people who were on the less intrusive end of the scale. Or, be specific about what you would find most helpful, so you ask only X or Y and for Z amount of time instead of activating the entire cavalry at once.

If you don't have that luxury, then so be it — if you need the help, then you need the help. It's OK. Either it's the help you need at an annoying but affordable price, or they might surprise you and intrude less given that you've managed for years on your own.

That in itself counters the message you fear, that "Mom's solo care = awful crisis" — but there's another good message for your sons, that family = support.

RE: SOLO CARE: There was never another time in history where one woman alone was expected to provide everything all the time for her children. There were always family, friends, neighbors, etc., around and everybody participated in caring for kids. Please ditch the idea you have to do it all alone. Having other people help you is GOOD for your kids. I bet they don't see a crisis at all, they probably LOVE when auntie comes over for dinner and when uncle takes them to ballgames. And I'm sure your siblings love spending time with them. See it as family taking care of each other and spending time together.


ANONYMOUS: Love this, thanks.

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