Before my daughter was born, I had trouble accepting help from people. The generous way to describe it would be to say I had a case of Superwoman Syndrome. But, in truth, I was kind of a control-freak perfectionist.
I would clean the house before our monthly visits from a cleaning service to avoid the scandal of dirty cups left lying about. My in-laws would come to stay, and I would glower at their attempts to “help” by unloading our dishwasher and putting everything away in the wrong spot. I had a system (seriously, my kitchen cabinets were labeled), and for days afterward I would mutter about not being able to find things.
At holiday meals I refused to let people help in the kitchen unless I could find foolproof tasks for them to complete. One year I asked my brother to peel potatoes, and when he wasn’t going fast enough for me I told him to go relax on the couch, I would do it myself. Apparently I actually took the veggie peeler right out of his hands; I do not remember this at all, it must have been some kind of fugue state. The poor man has not peeled a potato since. My family learned to just sit in the living room and let me do all the work.
Our parties involved carefully planned themes, complicated hors d’oeuvres menus, days of cooking beforehand, and elaborate dessert tables. Years ago, before my husband and I were married, I once spent three hours in our old apartment kitchen preparing a feast I’d never tried before while all of my dinner party guests were…partying. That may have even been for my own birthday. I could never just be a hostess, I had to be The Hostess.
I truly have no idea where this need for domestic perfection came from. I would get so stressed about keeping up with the laundry and household chores and endless projects I had going even while working a full-time job. A couple of times a year the stress would build up, I’d snap at my husband over something minor, sobs would ensue, and at the heart of it the real message would be that I was trying to do too much. He would talk me down, convince me that I needed to stop aiming for perfect (the enemy of good enough), and I would readjust and come back to reality for a while. But it never lasted.
I could blame Pinterest, but it pre-dates that. Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest in my family and had something to prove. Maybe it’s because I’m a librarian. Maybe I just liked the praise from a well-made meal and an attractively maintained house. We’ll call this the How Does She Do It All? Syndrome. All I know is, I was kind of a lunatic. And sometimes I was downright ungracious about it.
With my husband, the change into someone who accepts help not only graciously but gratefully was instantaneous. After more than two days in labor and an emergency C-section (I can’t even), I could not physically do the superwoman thing anymore. This from the person who spent her maternity leave before the baby’s arrival packing the freezer with homemade frozen meals to get us through the first month or two of parenthood. Totally normal! The woman who alphabetized the baby’s books while pregnant and seriously considered putting them in Dewey Decimal order. That woman was now loaded with hormones and emotions and post-surgical drugs.
Those first two weeks at home, my husband made sure everyone was fed, watered, cleaned, and entertained on schedule and around the clock. He woke me up for 3am feedings and made sure I drank enough water. He managed family visits, ran the errands, made sure I had an endless supply of Law & Order reruns to watch, and sent me upstairs to sleep when I slipped into narcoleptic fits mid-conversation. He was the superman to my superwoman, and I had never known he could do all of that because I had never given him the chance before. It was like an Oprah A-Ha! Moment. We were a team. We’d always said we were before, but secretly I totally thought of myself as the CEO of our family. I finally understood what co- means.
With everyone else, I was probably still a lunatic for the first few months of my daughter’s life.
But I got better. When my mom said she was coming to visit and not to do a dust inspection of my house, I believed her. I accepted that help with the dishes, especially all those godforsaken baby bottle parts, is an amazing gift someone can give you. If you can’t find your favorite slotted spoon for a week or so you’ll manage. Holiday meals are more delicious when everyone’s been in the kitchen all day gossiping and sharing cooking tips. Parties are better (and honestly way, way cheaper) when your friends keep you out of the kitchen by bringing some of the food.
I learned that having family around to keep another set of eyes on the baby helps maintain your sanity, even if they don’t do things exactly the way you would do them.
You know what else keeps you sane? Date nights. So does admitting, especially when that adorable baby hits the toddler years, that crayon marks on the coffee table do not reflect negatively on you as a person. And that I can be a superwoman in brand new ways—making a mess in the kitchen with my two-year-old, taking her on adventures, choosing to spend time with her outside in the sprinklers instead of tackling that basket of ironing.
It takes a village, and no woman is an island, and every other cliché you can think of—they’re all true. Life is just better when you let people help you, and if I’d known that before motherhood I’d have saved myself a few grey hairs.