Asking for Help

Do you ever borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbor?

Asking for help — even a half-cup of help — is difficult for most of us. We  like to be the helpers, not the helped.

I have borrowed an egg or sugar from a neighbor. I’ve got several go-to neighbors in our apartment building. I’ve done it more than once.

Honestly, I’ve usually sent the kids to do my borrowing. (The same way I’ve sent them to the subway musician with a dollar to put in an open guitar case.) Kids are good at doing the begging, borrowing and paying out for the parents.

I’ve been thinking about all of this while reading The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine. She says:

Women often slide into unhealthy dependency when we turn to our children for the loving connections missing in our adult relationships…The idea of trekking over to a neighbor’s house when the pantry is short an item or two seems almost laughable now. The easy camaraderie that existed among working-class women, a function of both desire and necessity has been lost to take-out food, housekeepers and a fear that revealing our problems, no mater how incidental, will result not in support but in embarrassment.

Hmmmm, yes. To counter the self-reliance I feel imposed on me (by who? my church? my education? my status?) I’ve made my Rule Number One: Pile on the People. While I don’t like asking for help from anyone, I do need it.  A husband with Parkinson’s Disease, three kids, a full-time job and a time-consuming writing habit, I, in fact, need all the help I can get. (Another mantra — draw the circle wide.)

There is a benefit not just for us, the borrowers, but for the friend across the hall, the one whom we borrowed from. In exchange for the egg that she lent (gave) us, she received a handful of warm kid-made peanut butter cookies. I wanted to take a picture of the cookies to post on the blog, but there are only a few crumbs left. 

(I wrote about this book on my other blog, my blog about writing and being connected:

A Generation of Disconnected Kids

As I was leaving work tonite, I grabbed a book from my bookshelf to read on the bus ride home. I found these notes I had written about a year ago:

I give my kids what I wish I had when I was growing up — braces, nice sneakers, designer clothes. When one of my darlings walks by me and I’m reading the paper, I drop it, I snatch them close. I hug and kiss them.

If there’s a bagel that needs cutting, let me do it. I’d rather risk injury.

I feel sorry for them. Their dad is kind of sick. Their mom works a lot. But hey, wait! That’s me! I don’t think I should feel sorry for them. Why AM I the only one who sets the table and pours the milk into the cereal bowls?

I’m so tired that it’s easier for me to do what needs to be done than have them step up to the plate. I allow them to be dependent. They need to be more responsible.

Somewhere I got the idea that childhood should be soft and warm and adulthood hard and cold. It is wearying. I am getting tired.

The book that prompted these thoughts, where I found my handwritten notes, is Madeline Levine’s “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.”

Here are some quotes near my notes: “Both intrusion and overinvolvement prevent the development of the kinds of skills that children need to be successful: the ability to be a self-starter, the willingness to engage in trial-and-error learning, the ability to delay gratification… Warmth often slides into unhealthy dependency when we turn to our children for the loving connections missing in our adult relationships.”


I think my kids are connected, happy and have aspirations towards responsibilty. But I have to nurture them and, at times, correct them.

If I give them warmth, which they need, it doesn’t mean I am sliding into unhealthy dependency. Nor does firm guidance mean I am lacking in love or warmth.

One startling premise of the book is that children of wealthy families are unhappier than children in poor families. Tough circumstances force family members to lean on one another, eat meals together and bond.

This book was a book club pick, although I never finished it and missed the discussion. Still, the premise bears discussing. Just today at work, my friend D. and I were talking about how difficult — and necessary — it is to let kids know your expectations of them. This helps them claim and feel proud of the ways that they have acted responsibly.

There is a happy and healthy middle ground between being your kid’s best friend and being the bad guy. I am finding that middle ground.