I learned something incredibly valuable last year, while I was pregnant and solo parenting my two and a half year old daughter while my husband was deployed overseas with the Navy.
This learning did not come without some collateral, however. I had to learn first what it was like to hit rock bottom.
I was probably sitting on the couch at the time, my rear firmy implanted in the deep indentation first created there during my first maternity leave; a year of nursing a baby to sleep, it seemed. I have a pilling, well-loved crocheted blanket over my legs, and it covers the tiny, endlessly bouncing legs of my daughter as well. We are one sentence into her favourite book, and I am crying, ceaselessly, bitterly, and pathetically, as I try to pretend that I am fine, pretend that I can eke out the words without choking on them.
I think this is when it happened, but it also could have happened at bedtime, my daughter sitting in the middle of our bed, refusing to lay down and “calm her body” until she had driven us both to near-tears. I suppress a scream of frustration, for fear of scaring her, but the injured-animal sound that erupts from my mouth is likely more frightening than the no-holds-barred alternative.
I have lost my patience; I feel like I have lost my mind. I have lost all control.
The words of my friends and colleagues echo through my mind during these times:
“Call if you need anything.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
If you’re like most others, you’ve uttered these words many times before, directed with varying levels of sincerity, toward family, friends and acquaintances. Those you’ve offered to support will never call, and you will assume that they do not need your help.
What I’ve learned is that probably the opposite is true. When I was feeling most desperate, not only did I struggle with finding a safe way to expose my vulnerability, possibly dissolving into gasping tears on the phone as I asked a friend to walk my dog that day, but many days I was so low, so despairing, that I couldn’t even begin to articulate what kind of help I needed. But I knew, deeply, that I couldn’t go on without some kind of support.
What I needed, was for someone to just show up at my door with a Tupperware container full of soup. Maybe they would come in, play with my daughter for a while as I napped, maybe just make a cup of tea and sit with me, keeping me company for a while. I needed someone not to offer me support, not to wait for me to swallow my own vulnerability and tears and ask, and certainly not to scold me for not calling when I needed help. I needed someone to assume that I needed help, and simply offer it, without asking, without judging.
Perhaps it feels chivalrous, offering help where maybe none is needed. But I assure you, chivalrous support does not feel like a judgement on a person’s abilities or situation. It feels unconditional.
It opens up the door for a person to ask for help again. It preserves a person’s dignity, not having to risk tears when they finally pick up the phone and ask you to walk their dog; when they finally pick up the phone and admit they can’t do it all, not even part of it, and they’re not doing okay.
Do you have someone in your life who provides you with chivalrous support?
Do you play the role of chivalrous supporter for someone else?
How do you think you can cultivate an unconditional support network in your life?