The door burst open and a jolly man with a red beard opened his arms and greeted me like I was his prodigal son returned. I was anything but: a frazzled, pregnant stranger juggling her 14-month-old son in one arm and her diaper bag and ringing cell phone in the other. I was flustered and embarrassed; I hadn’t even been sure I was at the right house. But before I could even say, “Are you Mr—” he had extended wide, warm hands to cradle my boy and carry my bag so I could answer my phone.
This was last week—Thanksgiving—and I was crashing an annual celebration that had been running fifteen years or more. A good friend had invited me when she learned my husband would be working on the holiday, knowing our families live thousands of miles away. Her in-laws spent each Thanksgiving with these long-time friends: our pastor, his family, and our hosts.
I entered the house to find my son’s coat and hat hung right above the diaper bag. The man who had greeted me was kindly chatting with my son, making him laugh. He handed him back, but within minutes, our pastor’s daughter snatched him back up as someone else handed me a mug of hot cider.
I blinked. My son was being cared for. I was being cared for.
I looked around in a daze. What do I even do with myself?
The rest of the evening was a blur: the same theme, different players. Everyone seemed to have an extra hand, a mug of cider, a listening ear. I was welcomed into the fold of family . . . and I hadn’t done a single thing to earn it.
Now, I am a grown woman who knows people like this exist. I have been blessed to know great kindness, hospitality, and love in my lifetime. This wasn’t the first man to offer to take my coat or the first woman to hand me a warm beverage.
But I will tell you this: it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced such an overflow of generosity, especially during this season of new motherhood. And I’m beginning to recognize I only have myself to blame.
True, there are the unavoidable facts: we live far from family. My husband works long, inconsistent hours. I solo parent much of the time. Childcare is hardly ever free, and trying to do any sort of billable work while a baby sleeps does not actually work (at least, it hasn’t really worked for me). In short: my life, in this season, is focused almost entirely on chasing after the little toddler who can destroy our house in less than five minutes and nurturing the tiny life inside my belly who makes me want to nap every minute the toddler is sleeping. And it’s exhausting.
Then there are the other facts: I tend to do a lot of comparing, assuming I have no options other than the way I choose to do things (“Well, she has family in the area;” “Well, her husband is home every night at 6pm;” “Well, she had a full-time job to return to and can pay for childcare,” etc.). I don’t accept help when it’s offered because I tell myself I have to learn how to get by on my own. I’ve got so many beautifully generous people in my circle here, but I assume they are busy with their own lives and families and don’t need me dragging them down with the minor woes of motherhood.
But the weekend before Thanksgiving, I did something different. I realized I was feeling lonely and sad as I anticipated spending the holiday like any other day of the week, and I reached out to my friend and asked if she had plans. She knew even before I did what I was seeking. Without a second’s delay she told me she had been meaning to invite me to her in-laws’ party. As I paused, considering whether I should back-pedal, tell her I wasn’t fishing for an invite, was just curious whether she’d be in town . . . I suddenly saw to the heart of what was happening inside me. I was afraid of being seen. Of being needy. Of admitting I didn’t want to do this one on my own.
Lucky for me, this friend is one of the women in this season of life who has helped me practice vulnerability. She knew that reaching out was hard for me, and she responded with love and kindness.
So at Thanksgiving, when we went around the table and it was my turn to give thanks, I totally lost my cool, trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears: This motherhood thing is beautiful and it’s hard, I said. It’s the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’m so grateful. But most of all. Most of all I’m thankful that God is teaching me to rely on him and to rely on others. That I can ask for help (I’m so bad at that). That I don’t have to do this on my own. That I was welcomed into your home with such love. It just means so much. At least that’s what I tried to say through ugly cry face.
Their response? More help with my son. More mugs of hot cider. Dirty plates taken from my hands.
As I left, I couldn’t help but think maybe I really was like the prodigal at the threshold of his father’s house. So many gifts and resources at my disposal which I have squandered in my desire to do things my own way. Too afraid and too proud to admit I can’t make it on my own.
And yet welcomed with open arms, invited into the celebration. Reminded that it’s never too late for a second chance.
As I prepare for the arrival of our second child, I’m committed to doing things differently this time. I’m committed to celebrating small victories, like calling a friend on FaceTime because I need someone else to entertain my child for just five minutes or saying “I’d love that, thank you,” when a friend offers to bring me dinner.
I’m committed to teaching our children the value of friendship and the importance of community. And who better to show them how rich a life in community can be than their beautifully messy, stumbling, introverted mama? I will remind them:
Life is too precious to do it on our own.
Erin Curlett is a writer, new mama, and recovering perfectionist. She is passionately committed to speaking the truth about life and motherhood in all its messy, beautiful glory in the hope her stories will help other women feel a little less alone. She is Editor of the Good Mother Project blog and writes (sometimes) at truth_fully told and the Discovery Community Church blog, All In.
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