Monday, September 22, 2014


This post is aimed mostly at mothers, but I believe it might be useful for everybody else, too. So read on, and let me know what you think.

I believe that one of the most difficult tasks a new mother is presented with (together with taking care of an infuriatingly ungrateful living creature while being continually chastised by society) is getting the help she really needs. Since I had my first child over three years ago, I was lucky to have family and friends come and visit often in order to help me. The help was mostly well received, but to be honest there were times I wished I had no help at all. I'll give you a few examples.

One time I thought a simple nap WITHOUT MY BABY would save my life, whereas my mother thought I needed her to reorganize my kitchen drawers. Another time, a well-meaning friend pestered me to tell her exactly how she could help me, but I was too tired to answer so she reorganized my kitchen drawers. Once I dropped my baby in my father's arms and ran to take a nap. I awoke to my child screaming out of mad hunger in a soiled diaper while my dad was happily reorganizing my kitchen drawers. See a pattern here? 

At first, I thought the problem was finding a way to communicate effectively what I needed. But that was only half of the problem, since there are people who won't meet your needs even when they are expressed in a simple sentence written in a bold Helvetica typeface on the side of a zeppelin and echoed by a Gospel choir. The real lesson I had to learn before I asked for any help was a simple one:


There are different kinds of helpers in this world, and unless you learn to recognize and accept their strengths and limitations, your pleas for help are going to be exhaustingly unproductive. So let me introduce you to a framework to help you identify the types of Helpers in your life so that you, dear mother, can maximize the support you're receiving.

Type 1. The Moderate Helper

As you can see from the diagram below, the Moderate Helper will help you in some of the things you need done (the Help Offered is a subset of the Help Needed). The Moderate Helper listens to your requests and usually takes on the easiest and quickest tasks. People in this category tend to be friends without children, so their judgement is not impaired by blood line or by supposed "experience with kids".

Babysitting: Up to 30 minutes for a non-crying baby.
Duties performed: Allows you to shower and take a short nap, makes sandwich and/or coffee.
Advice offered: Suggests interesting new releases on Netflix.

Type 2. The Good Helper

The Good Helper does everything s/he can while in your company. S/he will listen carefully to your requests and even spontaneously assess your situation in order to provide help that you feel too embarrassed to ask for. People in this category are usually well-adjusted individuals with children close in age to yours, and rarely blood relatives. As you can see from the diagram, they perfectly cover all your needs.

Babysitting: Up to 3 hours.
Duties performed: Lets you take a bath, cleans up your living room, brings a bag of groceries (prompted or unprompted).
Advice offered: Generic and non-judgmental tips on baby-rearing.

Type 3. The Great Helper

The Great Helper doesn't even need to hear your requests. S/he will immediately help you with everything you need and with other things you didn't even know you needed (Help Needed is a subset of the Help Offered). People in this category are usually successful members of society with a high level of empathy. Please note this is the Holy Grail of friendships. Honor it.

Babysitting: Up to 12 hours (overnight included).
Duties performed: Schedules appointment with lactation consultant as soon as you're back from the hospital, lets you drop off your child at their house and then kicks you out, brings gourmet food unprompted, leaves dry shampoo in your beauty-case without mentioning it, changes your bedsheets, instills in your child awe and respect for nature.
Advice offered: None.

Type 4. The Bad Helper

The Bad Helper will technically help you, but will feel obligated to "help" with tasks you couldn't care less about. Bad Helpers technically don't deserve the "Bad" label, since they are actually helping, but you will get so irritated at their misdirected efforts that I have to call them that. People in this category are usually close relatives or people whose adult children live in another state/country.

Babysitting: Up to 1 hour.
Duties performed: Sets the table, brings junk food, distracts you with mildly-entertaining gossip, reorganizes kitchen drawers.
Advice offered: Long, heartfelt discussion on the best way to change your parenting style completely but successfully, based on their personal experience.

Type 5. The Really Bad Helper

The Really Bad Helper is someone who will not do anything you need because s/he knows better than you. In this diagram, you see how Help Needed and Help Offered do not intersect at all. Really Bad Helpers are usually a parent or a parent's sibling. In case of the sibling, having children is irrelevant to their uselessness.

Babysitting: Up to 30 minutes (while you are printing some weird document they need printed).
Duties performed: Polishes brass you didn't know you had, vacuums laptop keyboard, irons your wedding dress, spends hours online researching scientifically obsolete diet plan for you to follow, informs you your child needs to learn some respect.
Advice offered: On all fronts, because they think you're being too soft but also too insensitive to your child's needs.


Being able to identify the types of Helpers in your life is hugely important. While it's true you will have to deal with each of them at some point, knowing their role will help you decide who to call and when, and whose offer to politely reject. For example, Great Helpers need to be called right after birth, whereas Really Bad Helpers can be invited for tea on a weekend or whenever you and your partner are both home to support each other. I would also suggest you share this framework with your Helpers, so that people can take a hard look at themselves and see whether they can drop the brass polishing already.

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