Asking for help and being there for others

Asking for help can be very difficult. But if you expect to be able to handle everything on your own, all of the time, you risk burning yourself out. Learning to ask for help, and being available to help others, will help you build a network of support and community.

• Start with a small request. If you find it hard to approach friends or family to ask for help, try starting out by asking for a small favor, like picking up your child after school or moving a heavy piece of furniture. Be sure to let people know how much you appreciate their help, and return the favor whenever you can. Thank-you notes along with a small gift go a long way toward letting someone know how grateful you are, and people will be more willing to be there for you the next time you ask.

• Try not to worry about how you'll reciprocate for the help people give you. Look for opportunities to return the favor, but don't feel obligated to match every offer of help. No one is keeping score (and if someone is, you probably shouldn't accept his help). If you want to show your gratitude, think of things you are comfortable doing. You can run an errand, give a ride to the airport, deliver some baked goods, or invite the person to your home for dinner.

• Be on the lookout for sources of support and help. When you meet someone new, try to get a sense of whether she would be a possible source of reciprocal support. Get to know her needs and suggest ways of helping one another. Maybe the new neighbor could help you decorate your home and would be interested in using your sewing skills in return.

• Don't be afraid to tap into your support network. Ask a family friend, close neighbor, or relative to go to the events in your child's life that you can't attend. Your child will be happy to have a caring adult there. Maybe you could ask another parent to videotape the activity. After work, sit down with your child and watch the videotape together, singing your child's praises.

• Offer to help friends, family, and co-workers who seem overloaded or who are going through a difficult time. Volunteer to help with a project or do what you can to lighten the person's load. Chances are, you'll benefit from that same support one day. Sometimes just sending a card or writing a note means a lot to someone who is struggling in his or her life.

• Set boundaries. Once in a while, you will meet other single parents who are too needy for you to help without burning yourself out. Setting boundaries can be hard when you sympathize with their problems, but it's necessary for you to conserve time and energy for your family.

• Practice mutual support. In most single-parent networks, helping each other is what it's all about. Try aiding another single parent who may have challenges more daunting than yours. Often, this puts your own issues in better perspective.

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