By Executive Director Claire Louge

A few days ago, my two-year-old Kira was playing with a little shark squirt toy. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the hang of filling it up underwater. Her face crumpled in frustration, and she began to whine. “Do you need help?” I asked. “You can say, ‘Mama, I need help.’”

We’re trying to teach her to ask for help before she breaks down. It’s a work in progress.

I’ve noticed lately that it’s not just my 2-year-old who needs to work on this. Asking for help is a struggle for most adults, too. Myself included.

Why is that?

From my experience, it’s a lot of things. In mainstream American culture, we glorify self-reliance, personal success, and absolute independence. Needing help can be seen as a deficit of competence, a weakness of capability, or a burden on others. There’s a notion that you can’t be a respected, successful, and powerful human being without total self-reliance. To offer help is kind, but to take it is to admit defeat. No one wants to be the person who always needs help

But our independence is a myth, my friends. You know this. Humans are designed to be interdependent. That’s why social isolation is so bad for us. Sooner or later, we will need to rely on someone for something we don’t have the time, energy, or ability to do. And we may not be able to reciprocate their help immediately, or at all.  That’s okay. In fact, human beings can thrive only when they’re interdependent.

When we associate getting help with shame, we’re discouraging people from getting what they need when they need it. And when people don’t get what they need, that’s when problems get worse, and when crisis happens.

We need to normalize help-seeking. That’s how we create a culture of support. And it starts with us.

I once met a woman who shared a brilliant way that she does this. She lives next to a family with lower income, and wanted to be a person that this family could come to if they needed help. Every so often, she asks these neighbors for something small and simple that she needs, like an egg, or to borrow pliers. She does this for one reason: she wants to show that she is leaning on them so that they feel comfortable leaning on her when they might need something. She normalizes asking for help by asking for help. That’s leadership.

If the job of prevention is to get families what they need to avoid the overwhelming crises that lead to child abuse and neglect, then it’s our job to create a culture in which asking for help isn’t only normalized, it’s respected and encouraged.

That’s why you and I need to practice asking for help and receiving it. That can look like a number of things. Take advantage of your Employee Assistance Program, and mention what you like about it to your colleagues. Ask someone to help you carry the other box of materials to your car so you don’t need to make two trips. Actually take someone up on their offer when they say ‘let me know if you need anything.’

Because when you do that, you’re showing people around you that asking for help is normal. You’re defying the insidious myth of total self-reliance. You’re also giving people the gift of being able to support you, and that gift is what builds connection.

When you ask for help, you are contributing to the shift toward a culture of support. Children and families thrive in a culture of support. Be the change. Lead the change. Ask for and accept help.