I’m adding to my list of Universal Truths about Divorce – divorce almost always means having to do more with less. There could be the same amount of tasks and errands to do as before but there’s no partner to share the burden. There could be less time available than before, especially if you’re working full-time and you used to work part-time or of you’ve taken on more parenting responsibilities. There could be less disposable income than before because you’re having to cover the basic housing costs on your own.
My divorce was final a little more than three years ago now and most of the above was true for me. It also meant that I needed help more so than at anytime during my seventeen year marriage. I’d lived in my town for about seven years and with two school-aged children, I knew a lot of people so help should have been plentiful but here’s the first rule:
Rule #1: People do not read minds. You have to ask for help.
Asking for help from friends and neighbors is not the same as getting help from your spouse. I expected my spouse to see that the garbage bag was full and needed emptying without my asking. We shared the same house, used the same garbage. While your friends’ children may be in the same activities as your kids, your friends do not know your schedule. Your friends won’t know that the light bulb in your chandelier is out and you need someone to hold the ladder. You have to ask.
That doesn’t sound so difficult does it? No, but truthfully there have been times when I have sat in my house agonizing over if I should ask, who I should ask, how should I ask and what other possibilities were there that would avoid me having to ask.
To start with, asking for help sometimes makes me feel guilty. When I can’t get my lawn mower started, the most obvious person to call on is my neighbor. I feel guilty doing this because it seems like I only talk to him when I want something. I think he’ll think I’m having a blonde moment or I’m just this ditzy blonde, which is not the image I want for myself.
Rule #2: Just as your friends can’t read your mind, I doubt that you can read theirs. Do not exclude potential helpers based on what you think they might think about you. This is about a simple request – it’s not a therapy session.
That ditzy blonde thing … that’s about me admitting I actually can’t do it all. Part of that is tied up with whether I’m being a good mother if I can’t do everything for my children. The other part is, when I was first divorced, I was on a mission to prove to myself (and the world) that I could be self-sufficient, that I didn’t need a man around the house.
Rule #3: It’s a simple law of nature that you cannot be in two places at once and until time transportation becomes a reality, there is always a time lapse in getting from A to B.
If you have a child, time conflicts are inevitable. This is an opportunity for you to get to know the other families in your children’s activities and offer to carpool.
Rule #4: Other parents are part of your community and they most likely, will enjoy having someone else to share transport duties with, just as much as you need it.
My children don’t do as many activities now as pre-divorce. That could be an age thing but I know I’ve been less inclined to suggest activities as I’ve worked to create a schedule that I could manage without assistance from my ex. Our lives are saner for this and it gives us more flexibility to adjust the schedule around conflicts.
Now about being self-sufficient, there are many tasks I have learned to do – I can use an electric drill, I can change light bulbs (Don’t laugh! Do you have any idea how many different styles of bulbs there are?), I can change the filter in my furnace, I can modify my sprinkler schedule. All these are tasks my husband used to do. I use the internet and friends to find out how-to but there are some tasks I won’t do. For example, I don’t touch anything to do with electrical wiring. For those tasks, I have what every single woman needs – a good, trustworthy handyman and while he is compensated, there are times when he will help me at no charge, like coming round at 9 p.m. to help me figure out why my fridge suddenly stopped working.
What I’ve learned from this is that I didn’t do these tasks before simply because that was the way my husband and I divided the labor. I don’t supposed we were different from many couples – we each did what we were most comfortable doing. Getting divorced meant moving out of my comfort zone and most of the contractors and service people who’ve worked in my house, have been happy to teach me the basics, I just had to ask.
Rule #5: Home maintenance is a learned skill not an innate ability. Approach any service call to your house as a home maintenance training session. You’ll likely get better service because the technician will see that you are engaged and interested and you’ll be increasing your knowledge.
Another reason that stops us from asking for help is feeling that we are imposing on someone. If that’s what you’re feeling, then ask yourself why. Are you asking them to do something for no charge that you really should be paying for? If that’s the case then you can offer compensation and be sure to discuss this before the task is done, not afterwards. If payment is not in your budget, you could ask for more helpers so it’s less of a burden for one person. You could also offer some of your time doing a task they may need in exchange.
Once you’re comfortable that the request you’re making is reasonable, remember rule #2 and then,
Rule #6: Let the person you’re asking make their own decision. She can always say no.
The other reason for reluctance to ask for help is fear that it creates an obligation – an obligation that you will have to help that person in the future and you don’t know what task you might be called upon to perform or when you might have to return the favor. It makes us vulnerable. All of that true but …
Rule #7: People like to help. They like to help because it makes them feel needed and that’s a fundamental part of human nature.
Your reluctance may come from not having had much practice at helping others or asking for help. The only way to overcome this, is to dive in. Take the risk … I promise you there will be much harder challenges to face than this.
Are you reluctant to ask for help? Why? What works for you when asking for help?