Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Help a Publicly Struggling Parent

A time I *didn't* need help.
Wrap: Inda Jani Fular Rayado
The other day, well, was awful. I have never, in my whole parenting career, needed a stranger to step in and help me more than I did that day. No one did. Instead they just stopped and stared at me. Now, I wasn't in danger or anything (although I did nearly drop my daughter on her head on concrete) so I realize my experience might not sound like THAT big of a deal, but when we're overwhelmed and feeling like we don't have control of a situation involving our kids, EVERYTHING IS A BIG DEAL, am I right?

It was snowing so hard that day that I almost canceled our appointment downtown, but I'd cancelled it the week before due to the plague, and I had to take Delilah to school anyway, so I went ahead with it. Half-way there, I realized I didn't have any change for the metered parking lot and would have to park on the street. YAAAAAY! (By which I mean a four letter word that starts with "F".)

I had to park about a block away from the building, putting a large snow bank and a slippery parking lot between me and my destination. I got Canon (the baby) into a ring sling, slung my diaper bag over my shoulder, and went around to get Delilah (the preschooler) out, who was insisting she didn't want to go and I should just leave her in the van. Which, obviously, NO. So I picked her up with my free arm, kicking and screaming and carrying on, and made it about 10 feet before she screamed "MY BOOT!" 

I looked behind me and sure enough, her boot had fallen off. I trudged my way back to it, where two people stopped to watch as I squatted down so I could dangle her low enough to pick it up, barely able to push myself back up out of the squat with, oh, 60 pounds of kids and diaper bag under my arms. Delilah made to hand the boot to me, but let go before I had a hand on it, so again, it fell. Again, my spectators offered no help.

I finally got a firm grip on the boot and started to make my way toward the building. Canon started slipping out of the sling, but I couldn't fix him, because I had his sister under my other arm. I barely had a handle on Delilah, but couldn't put her down, because only one boot on and because snow. She was screaming, I was begging her to hang on tight to me so I didn't drop her, and people all around were stopping to stare. I looked around at people pleadingly with tears in my eyes, and if I met their gaze, they looked away. Not one single person offered to help me. I VERY CLEARLY NEEDED HELP. Even the person right behind me when I finally got to the building waited for me to open the door myself, at which point I really did almost drop Delilah on her head, because my arms were about to fall off and oh by the way I only have two of them. 

So. Maybe those people were stopping and starting because they were thinking, "Wow, now there's a mom who really has it together!" Somehow I doubt it. Maybe they were there for the schadenfreude. Because my world view is such that I believe people are inherently good, I'm choosing to believe that they just froze because didn't know what to do or how to help. So, here's how to help a parent who appears to be struggling in three easy steps!

1. Ask if they need help. Some people don't want strangers intervening/touching their kids/touching their belongings. Maybe they have it under control even if it doesn't look like it from the outside. So, ask first before assuming help is wanted or welcomed. This is really simple. Some possible options are "Can I help you?" "Do you need a hand?" "Can I [pick up that boot] for you?" Not necessary are patronizing additions like "Wow, you've got your hands full!" or "Boy, they've really got you outnumbered!" or "Rough day, huh?"

2. Ask what kind of help is needed. Let the parent tell you how you can best help them. I would have been happy to let someone else carry my daughter to the building for me. Someone else may have preferred that someone just help get the boot back on. Someone else would have asked only for a kind soul to grab the door. Don't assume that the way you wish to help is the help that is needed. "How can I help?" "What can I do?" are quick and easy ways to suss that out. 

3. Help. Follow through with the help as requested, if you are able, or offer an alternative, if you aren't. Maybe I say "yes, could you carry her to the building for me?" but you've got a back injury and can't lift more than 10 pounds. You could offer to put the boot on her instead, or walk ahead to grab the door, or really, just say a kind word with soft eyes. 

Optional 4th step: Pat yourself on the back and feel good about yourself. It truly takes a village, and you were a part of someone's village! Even if you don't have kids yourself, even if you don't particularly like children, you can feel good knowing that you made a parent's day a little brighter. 

For what it's worth, I haven't lost faith in my village, thanks to my neighbor snow-blowing my sidewalk that afternoon. The bottom line is, if you see someone who looks like they might need to help, offer to help them, if nothing else, to avoid them taking to their blog with a pity party. ;) 


  1. Joella, what a sad world we live in when ( some) people choose not to help with something so simple as picking up a boot or opening a door.Is it fear of getting involved or just indifference? I love the 3 easy steps you outlined and truly believe it does "take a village" as do many other folks~we are all in this together!

  2. I love the 3 easy steps
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