If you’ve ever read a book that unexpectedly “changed your life,” you will know how I feeI. I picked up Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking on a Friday, read it straight through for 24 hours (after hearing a lot of “when will you put that book down?” from the family chorus!), and immediately put a few things into action on the Saturday night I finished. Then, in a twist of fate, the next morning (Sunday) I had an accident that required I keep practicing those lessons over and over, and then some more the past few weeks!
As I mentioned, I opened the book on a Friday and couldn’t put it down – I cried, I laughed, and I kept saying “Yes!” all the time. I read each page with the eye of both an artist and an entrepreneur.
But what I quickly realized was how much awesome content there is for parents.
I clearly saw that parenting is an art form, and stepping into my artist shoes as a mom could change everything! How had I missed that?
These are some of my biggest lessons that I have tried to boil down. This is a long post, but I hope you enjoy it, implement what speaks to you, and read Amanda’s book!
Connect. Connect like you mean it.
After graduating college, Amanda didn’t want to get a 9-5 job, so she bought a wedding gown, painted herself white, and stood in one of the busiest squares in Cambridge, MA, making money as a living statue. Statues don’t speak, so neither did she; if people gave her money, she handed them a flower while looking directly into their eyes and truly connecting with them in the act of giving and receiving.
She talks about these interactions she had with her audience in a way that you want to have that same feeling of connection with your spouse, your kids, your “fans.” She needed them in order to pay rent and eat, but they needed something in her too, something she was able to give to them through that gaze of silent, deep connection.
So let’s shift back to you and me and parenting for a second.
What if your day was filled with moments of deep connection with your kids? What if words were not necessary at all moments of our day?
I played with this a bit while I was reading the book. I wanted to read, but everyone was welcome to come snuggle and read their books. My kids saw me cry. They watched me put down the book and just snuggle into them. They asked me questions that they may not have if I wasn’t lying next to them. I was able to answer with no interruptions or distractions.
That night, I took out my toothbrush a few hours earlier than usual and started brushing my teeth as the kids were getting out of their baths and showers. Guess what? They all went to get their toothbrushes. I didn’t have to nag or hear any whining like the night before.
Hint: This has always been one of our dinner tricks. Too much talk about the food or too many choices is often hard for picky or young eaters. Children who sit with parents happily enjoying their food will usually then also eat their food.
Over the last 3 weeks, I have really leaned into this silent connection to get through my surgery and begin the healing process. There have been so many moments where if I opened my mouth it would have been to complain or wallow. Instead, I found my husband’s eyes, or sometimes even one of the kids, to be in that moment with someone, and then life is good again.
Ask. Just ask for what you want. And know that people want to give to you.
Eventually, Amanda started a band. This time, she did talk, and sing, and travel, and meet amazing fans who gave her food and shelter and a couch to sleep on.
Why did they give her all this? Because she asked.
Why were her fans so generous? Because they wanted to give in exchange for her art. And because she asked, they knew what she needed!
Amanda once asked for a neti pot (a small cup used to flush sinuses) on Twitter, and moments later a nurse responded, came to drop off the neti pot to Amanda at a café, and stayed for tea and great conversation.
I have been asking more too since I read the book, and then even more since I broke my wrist. For those of you wondering, the very day after I finished the book, I took my kids skating, fell when another child ran into me, and had to get surgery to pin the bones back together. I am in a cast for 6 weeks, then will spend 6 months working hard to get full mobility back.
For whatever reason, I am ok with everything about the accident… sh** happens! But the things that have me really spinning is how much I used to be able to do in a day with two hands now that I can use only one, how tired I am, and how helpless I feel around basic needs like feeding myself and taking a shower!
From the very beginning, I knew I needed support with work. In 24 hours I delegated to my team, hired an intern, and confessed to you all that I was doing the best I could.
At first my family and friends knew better than I did that I needed help with self-care – kinda like when a new baby arrives – but eventually my loyal tribe got on with their lives, working, playing, and Christmas.
All of a sudden, I had to ask for help at home just to do the minimal stuff, and I learned a few things!
First, my kids can do A LOT at 5, 9, and 11! They can all wash dishes, fold laundry, get themselves breakfast, clean their rooms, make their beds, decorate the Christmas tree, and vacuum. The older ones can cut safely with knives that make me cringe, entertain themselves for a full day, pack their own lunches, make mama a smoothie, and take out the trash. Maybe your kids do these things already, but mine didn’t. Clearly they can, but I never asked them to, partly because I had underestimated their capability or willingness.
Second, my husband really wants to help me in any way he can, but he cannot read my mind. I was shocked how excited he was to help me with the basic things. He literally fed me for three days! I kept worrying that I was a burden, but then I saw he loved doing it. He wanted me better, and he wanted to help make that happen! He was 100% ready to help me bathe, dress, even design pages, but he could only do what I asked.
And third, extended family and friends were eager to bring food and come help in my kitchen, to chop, cook, and even wash dishes! I was specific in what I wanted to eat to heal, and those around me really wanted to be a part of that — they wanted me to ask for what I wanted. If I could not use what they wanted to make because of gluten and dairy, no one was offended — they either asked me to advise them, or helped with my kids (which was essential at the beginning!).
Receive. If you want it, you have to welcome it.
Amanda decided to use Kickstarter to raise money to record and distribute her second album, and raised over a million dollars. The number of people who contributed to this campaign, which exceeded her expectations, was the same number of people who bought her first CD, which the production company had called a flop.
Amanda supports her fans with her art. They supported her with money, food, a place to sleep, really anything. Remember the neti pot?
What Amanda’s book and my injury combined gave me permission to see was that my family are my #1 fans. And each interaction between us is so precious and fleeting, and it really is my job to be so present in every moment I can, and then let them help.
Do you feel like you “do everything” in your family? Like even if you did ask for help, you wouldn’t get it, or it would create more work for you? Somehow being a mom or dad has become like being an island – like we’re in it alone. Even if we’re married, in the best circumstances we’re making decisions together, but usually, we’re DOING a lot of it on our own.
I have always been of the mind that delegating too much creates more work for me than I feel I have time for, but over the past few weeks, I have had no choice but to let others help, most notably my kids.
Practice makes perfect – for everyone!
The more I let go of the outcome, the better it gets. Tonight, I actually intended that everyone would be off the hook. Believe it or not I have been missing dishwashing, so I figured I could at least fill the dishwasher… My son was out with his dad, and the girls had a friend over. I warmed up some food (no chopping yet!) and we ate together; afterward, I went upstairs to put up my arm for a moment. When I came back down, all the dishes were washed and put away. But wait, there is more! There was a tablecloth and flowers on the table, and the counter was spotless. It was just a fun game played among three little girls. I accepted it gratefully!
Surround yourself with your tribe and GIVE.
Throughout her whole book, Amanda has a small group of people that she can rely on in a different way than her fans. They support her with advice, love and sometimes money. She travels to all ends of the earth but always circles back to them. When they need her, she is there 100% there for them.
“It takes a village.” In some other countries and cultures, families work as a tribe, sharing work and childcare with everyone – relatives, other families, neighbors. Here in the US, parents take a lot on alone, and it’s lonely, and definitely overwhelming.
Amanda’s point about asking for what you want includes setting up this support system first – building your tribe – so you can ask. As a parent, we are already part of a tribe – even as a spouse, friend or neighbor.
You have your core inner circle of spouse and kids… your next level of in-laws and relatives… and the next circle, your “fans.” Those are your friends who listen to and maybe even relate to your unthankful job as a parent: late nights, cleaning up throw-up, living in a minivan, all the times no one will eat the dinner you spent a ton of time cooking… you need that “fan base” to bounce those things off of. They are also the people who can raise you up.
In the last three weeks, time has felt weird. It takes so long to do things that I have to be really clear about what I need, or a whole day might pass me by. This clarity has magnetized the right people at the perfect moments.
The reason that Amanda’s connections with her audience struck me is because each look and each glance is different, specific, and clear to the person or group it is for. As a result she always gets the right couch or bed, and something I noticed in her stories is that she is usually fed good food, even with certain dietary needs! My guess is because she is clear about caring for that part of herself, so she magnetizes people who care, too.
The past three weeks I have really tweaked who and how I ask. I am challenging my kids in a fun and playful way. I am consciously as grateful as I can be for everything my husband is doing, which is a lot! I have let the hairdresser wash my hair. I asked friends to take me shopping and wrap all our Christmas presents. I let other friends bring soup when our house got the flu. (PS You know you guys can ALWAYS lean into me around all things food parenting, and simplifying crazy schedules…)
You’re not asking that much of them – they’re your friends, and we can’t do this alone. Vent, then ask for support. They’re there to cheer you on.
And with your village, the ability to ask, and the act of receiving … drum roll please… the coolest thing is that you are filled up and can REALLY give. No more “Martyr Mom”. It is really amazing what happens when you practice the art of clearly asking.
Every moment that I have received help these past few weeks have been complemented by a moment of connection with someone who needs it. Not because of this for that, but because asking and receiving has created the space or me to then give.
I finished Amanda’s book with this new notion of being able to do things with my life, almost expanding the boundaries of my life, just by asking for help. And I started that very night – I asked three people for help around work and family things. I would love to tell you how great it felt, but first it felt scary (I can’t lie about that part!)… and THEN it felt great.
Well the next morning, the Universe decided to conspire with me and give me LOTS more practice, via my crazy accident. I invite you to practice asking, ask some more, and then ask ask ask some more. How does it feel?
In fact, let’s start with today. What can you ask for today?