“I. Don’t. Need. HEEEELP!” cried my two-year-old, desperately trying to take off the foot handcuffs (pants stuck around her ankles) that rendered her immobile. She was determined to get undressed by herself, but she had failed to remember the crucial first step: Take Off Shoes. Thus, she was crying on the floor as she tugged on her pants with all her might. My husband and I encouraged her to let us help, but she still screamed. “I DON’T NEED HELP!”

Like the gold star parents we are, we giggled. This sweet girl just needed to accept our help to be mobile once again. However, in sharing the humor with a friend, I watched the frame freeze and zoom in on me in the kitchen just hours earlier.

My husband came downstairs. I was frantically grating cheese. The timer for the oven was beeping. The sauce on the stove needed stirring. The baby was screaming in the highchair when his Cheerios supply had run dry. The older kids were playing “Jack and Jill,” rolling downhill included.

“What can I do?” he asked.

“It’s fine,” I huffed. I definitely had everything under control. “I don’t need help.”

I am often tempted to handle everything—meal prepping, schedule managing, house cleaning, birthday planning. Only in serving totally do I feel I love others to the best of my ability. But telling the story, I saw the foot handcuff disaster in light of my own refusal to relinquish control. God probably chuckles at me when help is offered, and I righteously refuse to accept it. The belief, rooted in pride, that only I can address the grocery list and plan appointments (and grate cheese, apparently) conveys the false notion that I can depend only on myself, rather than on God and others. I think I am being humble, but in fact, I am arrogantly assuming that I alone can control my life.

Many moms struggle to accept help because we don’t want to put anyone out. Perhaps some part of us is also trying to show we have everything covered, that we are great at this mothering thing. Countless times, I have refused a meal or the free babysitting offered me. Countless times, I have offered help and was rejected. I understand the hesitation; the swallowing of pride, the back-and-forth dance of “No, it’s really okay,” the coordinating of schedules, the feeling like we owe a favor—all feel very overwhelming to someone who is already overwhelmed. But the truth is that, as much as we tout independence as the mainstay of American adulthood, we were not meant for independence. We were meant for community.

Allowing someone to help us is challenging and humbling. Implicitly, we admit, “I can’t do it all. I don’t have it all together. I need you.” Allowing others into our messy, imperfect homes means the curtain is pulled back and they see us, warts and all. And when they offer help, of course it’s a bother. Of course, they would rather sit on their couch in sweats instead of making lasagna or bouncing a baby; staying home is easier than grabbing groceries for a friend or being an emotional sounding board when we are suffering. 

But I’ll remind you that when we had children, we willingly took on the inconveniences of night wakings, doctor visits, financial burdens, and loss of free time. We don’t kiss skinned knees, wait in the carpool line, or work on school projects because of the ease or convenience. We do it out of love and because, as Catholics, we believe our vocation as parents helps us grow in holiness as we die to ourselves in service of our families.

Allowing help permits both us and others to grow in holiness—for us as we grow in humility and for others as they make sacrifices of time, talent, or treasure in selflessness and generosity. Without a reason to be drawn out of themselves, people tend to remain stagnant in complacency or even selfishness; refusal of help can even be defeating to those who stepped out of their comfort zones in their offer.

Here are some best practices I have found helpful in both almsgiving and alms-getting:

  1. Take others at their word, and be honest with yours. If you want help, accept the first time. Don’t begin the awkward social dance of “Only if it’s convenient…” A simple “That would be amazing” gets the message across and leaves the rest up to the giver. If your offer is refused, avoid the “Are you sure? I really don’t mind!” When we are honest with others and trust them in return, giving and receiving help becomes less complicated.
  2. Set boundaries. Consider your primary vocation, and be sure that your giving or receiving does not prevent you from fulfilling that role. I tend to give more than is sometimes healthy because cooking and baking give me life; however, prayer and discernment is helpful in maintaining a balance with my role as wife and mom. Similarly, as a receiver, honesty and directness are always helpful. “I would love that, but we may need a week before we are ready to welcome visitors” conveys the message of acceptance while also protecting our needs.
  3. Offer and accept concretely. “I was thinking of bringing some muffins on Friday morning” (versus  “Can I bring you a meal?”) or “We could use extra hands after the kids come home” (versus “That would be nice”) communicates our needs more effectively. 

As we pray where God is calling us to give this Lent, we should also ask Him how we are called to receive others’ love (including that from our spouses)! Jesus wants to show us His love, and sometimes, it is best seen through others’ hands. The next time we find ourselves pants-around-the-ankles, refusing to admit we are struggling, we can pray for humility to admit we need others and allow them to grow in holiness, too.