Have you ever uttered those terrible words ‘Let me know if I can help’?
I know I sure have. We all do it. We mean well. And sometimes we’re even genuine in our offer! But it’s one of the least helpful phrases in the English language (and possibly others). I think it even beats ‘How are you?’ in the insincerity stakes. Because we say it in the full knowledge that we’re not going to be taken up on it, but can feel that ‘at least I offered’. And the person you say it too? They are quite possibly desperate for help, have been offered help, but are left with no help.
Because let’s face it. Who amongst us will ever reply ‘Actually, I could really do with a break, can you take my kids for a few hours?’ or ‘Thanks so much, I’m way too sick to cook so I’d love you to drop a few meals over at my place. By the way, we’re gluten and dairy free’. Or ‘“You know what would help? If you just came over and kept me company. I’m finding it really lonely at the moment”.
Let’s do away with this very unhelpful generic offer of help
In fact, let’s ban it! Let’s instead be specific about how and when we can help. Let’s make it easy for the people in our lives to say ‘That’d be great, thanks so much’.
Let’s say to our friend who’s just had a baby, “Can I come over tomorrow morning and cuddle the baby while you have a long shower and put your feet up for an hour?”
To that mum you see at school drop off who is sick or struggling, ‘Is it OK if I bring your kids home from school with us this afternoon for a play and an early dinner? Come and get them about 6.30 or 7’. Or ”Don’t make dinner tonight because I’m going to leave a meal on your doorstep later today”.
To our neighbour who is caring for an elderly parent as well as her own children: “Do you have any food allergies? I’m cooking up some meals for the freezer today and I’m going to drop a few over at your place”.
To the mum at playgroup who looks and sounds like she has hit her limit: “How about I come and pick up the kids tomorrow morning and take them with us to the playground?”
And if you can’t come up with a firm offer on the spot, simply drop those meals off at the door. Show up at your friend’s place with a takeaway coffee and a request to cuddle the baby. Knock on your neighbour’s door and ask if her kids want to come to the playground with you and yours.
If you’re feeling like “Hey! I can barely find time to do the things I need to do for me and my family”, just keep in mind that if you’re someone who helps when others need it, you’re far more likely to be someone who receives help when YOU need it. All these things cost so little effort and time, really. But they can make a huge difference to someone who really does need help – but will never take you up on that empty offer to let them know if they can.
Kate Ritchie is a Melbourne writer and mum of two beautiful rascals. She believes passionately that new mums need food, not flowers and is the founder of Let Lulu, an online shop where people can order a delivery of nourishing, freshly made meals for new mums and anyone who needs a bit of TLC. You can find her at letlulu.com.au, on Facebook, Instagram or drop her a line at email@example.com.