Ask for What You Need

Healthy coping tools for Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month

Today’s post is for the Postpartum Support International (PSI) blog hop.  May has been designated Maternal Mental Health Awareness month.  In support of that, PSI is hosting a blog hop focusing on postpartum recovery and coping.  While today’s post will use language specific to new mothers, this is an issue that applies to people in all kinds of life situations.  I hope you find something that speaks to you.

Coping When You’re Exhausted and Overwhelmed

Healthy coping tools for Maternal Mental Health Awareness MonthHaving a new baby in your life can be joyful, powerful, and a time of intense connection.  Those are the experiences that are evoked when you hear the phrase “babymoon.”  At the same time, having a new baby can be isolating, exhausting, frightening and overwhelming.  The intense sleep deprivation and the impact that it has on your emotions and ability to cope are realities of new parenting that often get buried in the fine print when people talk about having a baby.

This can set up a difficult paradox.  People around you assume that you are having a joyful, cuddly bonding experience with your newborn.  While that is often true, the other side of the truth is that you may be worn to a thread, sometimes feeling like you are holding things together by the skin of your teeth.  That makes it incredibly important that you find ways to describe and ask for the kind of support that you actually need.

Many people really struggle with the idea of asking for what you need.  This can be true for many reasons.  Here are a few of the most common:

  • You don’t know what you need.
  • You don’t want to “impose.”
  • You don’t want to be seen as demanding or needy.
  • You are worried that those around you are too busy.
  • You are so tired that even stating your needs feels like a burden.
  • You are afraid that you won’t get what you ask for.

All of these reasons can prevent you from getting the best support possible.  And all of them may have roots in legitimate concerns.  Often though, there are people in your life who love you.  They want to help and support you.  And they will appreciate having some direction from you about how they can be most helpful.

Ask For What You Need–In Real Life

Step One: Dealing with Yourself

Before you can ask for what you need from others in your life, you need to spend a little bit of time with yourself.  Asking for what you need is most effective when you are clear about what you are asking for.  For example, when you say, “I just want some help,” that is pretty wide open.  When you say, “It would be hugely helpful if you ran a few loads of laundry,” you are providing a clear guideline.  So, before you try reaching out to others for help, try asking yourself what you need.  Here are a few sample questions:

  • What is my biggest need?  Do I need to sleep, have practical housework help, or do I need to talk to another adult for an hour or so?
  • Am I craving emotional support or practical support?
  • How can I define what I want in specific, behavioral terms?  What would it look like if I saw the kind of help I want on a video?
  • Can I meet some of my own needs?  Maybe I need to take a nap when the baby naps instead of doing laundry.  Maybe I need to put the baby in the stroller and get outside for a bit.

Step Two: Dealing with Others

It can feel scary to ask for what you need. You might not get it.  You might be misunderstood.  Here’s the thing though.  I think you are much more likely to get what you need if you ask for it.  If you don’t ask, then you are expecting those around you to read your mind, to magically know what you need.  Asking isn’t being “needy” or “demanding”–it is simply helping the people you love direct their energy in the ways that will let you feel most supported.  Here are a few tips on asking for what you need:

  • Match the request to the person.  Some friends or family members are great at emotional support, while others are better at practical things, like helping with the laundry or letting you rest.
  • Be open to the idea that you are loved and supported.  When you’re sleep-deprived, it can be easy to feel alone.  Asking for help is a way to reduce that isolation.
  • Don’t equate mind-reading with caring.  People who love you may not know what you need until you ask for it.
  • Be clear and specific about what will be helpful.

You are Loved and Supported

At the end of the day, we all need to know that we are loved and supported.  And learning to ask for what you need, particularly in the challenging and amazing time with a new baby, is one of the best ways for you to get to feel that love and support.  I know that it can feel like extra work at first, but I’m inviting you to give this a try.  Try to define one thing that you feel as though you need.  Then ask for it.  I would love it if you share what happens in the comments.  Also, feel free to share your own tips for defining and asking for what you need.  You are loved and supported.  You deserve to feel that way.

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