Lean on We

Lean on We
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Most of us can recall lyrics from the song “Lean on Me” and might just find ourselves belting them out in the shower from time to time with a shampoo bottle in hand as we imagine being on stage for adoring fans.  Okay, maybe this is just my own guilty pleasure, but it is a classic song with a very wise message.  As I have become a mother, a large part of my transition and deep learning has been of supporting and being supported.  Most of us are great at offering support and we spread ourselves so thin in attempts to help others, however, we are not always stellar at receiving help.

I recently took part in my first poetry slam event and found the courage to stand on stage and perform a poem that I had written called “Another Mother”.  I wrote it as a tribute to the mother from Winnipeg, Lisa Gibson, who recently suffered from post partum psychosis and drowned her two young children in the bath tub and then took her own life.  My spoken word poem was also created to rally support behind mothers in general, as I feel passionately that moms need more care and support from our culture. On stage, with wobbly knees, I worried that I might faint.  Public speaking is a new direction for me, and one that I previously avoided like my son avoids broccoli.  As I stood at the microphone, my heart pounding, I began to introduce my poem.  Out of my peripheral vision, I could see my cue cards shaking, but still I spoke.  It ended very well.  I delivered my message with more passion and conviction than I could have imagined.  The crowd was massively supportive, giving me a score of “beautiful, hero, wonder mom” and several people came to tell me how much they were impacted by my story.  It was a huge success and the best part for me was overcoming the fear that I carried about proclaiming my truth.

In reflection, I am amazed in many ways with my performance in the diversity poetry slam. Perhaps the biggest source of accomplishment was in being able to fully open myself to receive the support that I absolutely needed from the audience and fellow poets.  I did this almost without flaw, as I felt and channeled the open hearts of perfect strangers all willing a safe and sacred space for me to bare my soul.  I have come a long way in my journeys with leaning on the love of others.

Before I was a mom, I was a helper, as most of us are trained to be.  I gave way more to others than to myself, often taking on large stress loads, in the name of support and kindness.  I was “strong”, naturally, and didn’t need much help.  When things were going well, I was able to ask for help.  You know, help with the small stuff, like “Can you hand me that toilet plunger over there?”  I was great at bossing my husband around, but really, I never even asked him for much when the stakes were high.  I took care of myself, like I did when I was young and afraid to be a burden.  When I encountered people who tried to serve up large portions of compassion and support, I would pick a fight or run away.

When I had my first son, I remember people telling me to take all the help that would be offered. There were tons of people who reached out.  I thanked them for their support and maybe hit them up for some occasional, light help, but when the going got tough, I drew inward, and suffered alone.  Luckily, my husband, who was the only one allowed close enough to see more, was very loving and helpful, and somehow, I made it through the darker times. Having commenced a new direction of personal growth and exploration just before my second pregnancy, I was determined to accept more of the help that would come.  I had learned about the need for help and support more than ever before in my life, and this time I knew that my quest was to learn how to ask for it.  So, when my second son was born, I was much more comfortable.  I requested that my baby shower be one where people cooked meals for me to fill my freezer with.  It was fantastic!  I was learning how to ask for help and realizing that all those people who offered support really did intend to give it.  My requests remained very small and simple.  I did not want to ask for too much, and I still had no clue how to reach out when in need and actually lean in.

When baby number two became a sleep beast at five months old, our home life was difficult.  With toddler waking bright and early, ready to run, the bags under my eyes were weighing me down.  I was tripping on thin air, walking into walls, and incapable of driving or completing a sentence on some days.  As any sleep deprived parent will tell you, lack of sleep is nasty and can easily play games with one’s well-being.  I was sinking and needed help.  Knowing that I had vowed to reach out more, I found myself unable to.  In desperate need but feeling as if my mouth was glued shut, I began to deeply question myself.  Why was this so hard for me?  Why could I not ask for help when I really needed it?

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher is there, and this was the case for me.  I had been growing already and was used to seeking wisdom within myself.  This was a new layer exposed.  What I discovered was ground breaking.  I had lived a life of taking care of myself and others and being strong.  I had not stopped to love myself.  Seeing as I had reached a place of learning about and benefiting greatly from self love just before conceiving my second son, I was able to see that if I did in fact love myself, then I could accept that I was worthy of asking for and receiving help.  Not just small stuff, but help when I needed it the most.  I had learned how to ask for help, but at this stage, I had to learn how to take it, how to allow it past my defenses.  I explored the idea of lean and support.  Previously, I had viewed help as something that was kept score of.  If you help me, then I must help you, in a similar way.  I literally added up how much I owed people in return for their help and would have been very uncomfortable not to return a favor.  In my new growth, I saw that we all need to lean sometimes.  There are times when we are able to support, and we do so, but when we need to lean, we ought to be able to trust our weight to the group and be caught by our support structures.  This is a way that I now see a community.  We all take our turns supporting and leaning.  There is no need for a tally score.  I support when I can, and lean when I need to.  Within the group as a whole, we lean and lift in many directions.  In this way, each of us gets what we need and gives what we can, and life feels good.  We all must deeply love ourselves (stay tuned for an article on how to love yourself deeply), knowing that we are worthy of belonging in this circle, worthy of being carried, and have valuable contributions to make.  If we could create community like this, it would yield true beauty.  Mothers need this especially. The first time that I tried a free jump, I was hooked.  It felt so good to ask for and fully accept help when I needed it.  I practiced this skill and it got easier and felt better each time.  I leaned into my group and was carried out of my darkness and into a brighter spot.  It was a place where I knew that I was loved deeply, valued, and would never walk alone again.  I had to find it for myself, but it had always been there waiting for me.  It is there for you too.  Honor yourself enough to claim it!  Find a community where help is given and taken freely and lovingly.  I have now changed the lyrics of “Lean on Me” to “Lean on we!”  I catch myself belting out this new version of the song and having a good chuckle as I realize that I will not be up for any singing award, though I think the sentiment is very wise.  Learn to lean on we and there will always be community.

As my offering to other moms, in an attempt to create a village of support, I have created a group for moms.  There are many challenges and struggles with being a mom, and a community of compassion, acceptance, and support is needed.  This will be a free group, meeting once a week, on Wednesdays, from 10:00 am to noon.  Please email me at carliekilduff@gmail.com if you are interested in learning more, and please help me to spread the word about this group.  Thank you!


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