Can we talk for a minute about how exhausting it is to be the helper?
Of course, there is the run-of-the-mill helping attendant to having a young child. The wiping alone could qualify as a line item in your daily time budget. There is the helping you do for your family. For many of us, there is the helping that’s part of being The One.
But then there is the way we help each other – mom to mom. I’ve been helped by loads of moms in my life in all kinds of ways. I’ve helped, too. Most of the time, it’s a pleasure. But every so often the realization comes that I still have to help even when it’s not a pleasure. I have to help because there is nobody else who is going to do it, and the help is necessary. And it feels like the eyes of my culture are staring at me expectantly. And it starts to feel like a burden. A burden of patriarchal bullshit.
There is the helping because you can empathize so thoroughly with her situation. There is the helping because you needed help and will likely need it again. There is the helping because you can just plainly see that if somebody doesn’t help, things are going to get ugly. And it starts to seem like you might be the only one who notices that your friend is in the weeds and really needs a hand.
But before you even assess whether or not you’ve actually got a free hand, you extend it. Because how can you not?! YOU’RE A NICE PERSON (which you think to yourself with crazed eyes and a shouty inner-voice). And then you’re in a pickle. Because the problem you were trying to solve by giving the help your friend needed puts you in an over-extended, burnout zone, perhaps even to the point that you now need help! Futility! Outrage! Madness! Motherhood!
Can I suggest that it is a little fucked up that we’re accepting the assumption that we, with the “hardest most important job in the world” are also responsible for taking care of the other people with the “hardest most important jobs in the world?” This is dumb, no? Actually, this gives me a great idea for the pilot I’m trying to write. I think I’ll call it “The President’s Butler” and the President’s name will be “Butler” and he’ll serve America by being both President and his own butler.
See? It just doesn’t make sense.
Now, I’m not saying that mothers should be (or would want to be) exempt from helping. I’m not asking for a pass here. I’m asking for normal participation. I don’t want to be removed from larger culture, just the opposite, actually. I’m saying that it’s because motherhood is so invisible that we’re in this mess. The lonely knowledge of what it’s like to carry your meltdown-apex toddler, for her own safety, while she is actively trying to rip your hair out and beat you about the face, screaming “why won’t you be kind to me?” from a Starbucks, changes your perspective and gives you boundless solidarity for other mothers. It impresses upon you the need to help. So while I’m not saying mothers shouldn’t help, I’m saying that we need a re-structuring of who is responsible for helping mothers. And the restructuring proclamation should read: “Everyone Helps, President Butler Included!” I want to help and I want to be helped, but can we somehow find a way to make it a little less lonely and exhausting? Can we spread the helping out so that it’s not the cultural purview solely of mothers?
Because, real talk? I’m exhausted from helping. Sometimes there is just no more “there” there. (Drops sippy cup)