Hey Fam!

How do we build that village and foster relationships that carry us through the hills and valleys of life? Our concept of community and showing up for each other has shifted in recent decades. We’re either too overwhelmed with our own lives, uncomfortable with other people’s discomfort, lack adequate boundaries, or just unaware of social norms that prevent us from genuinely being there. I’ve seen the ways that individuals and families are left feeling isolated and even abandoned by the people they thought would be their biggest support. A part of that though, is knowing how to ask for what we need. That takes vulnerability and courage. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

Best place to start is to ask. If you don’t know *how* to be there for someone, just ask. That opens the door for the person in need, to really think about what would work for them. “How can I best support you in this moment?” or “What would be the most helpful way to support you?”. I know, I know, it sounds a bit corny. But hey, if you can’t be a lil corny and cheesy (mmm corn and cheese!) with those you care about, then what’s the point? Sometimes the person in need doesn’t know what would be helpful. So be ready to make a suggestion or two, careful not to overwhelm them with options. “I’m making some goat and roti for dinner, can I bring you a plate?”, “I’m heading to the grocery store, can I pick anything up for you?”. If after offering, they decline your help, then let them know that you are ready and willing, free of judgement when they are ready to reach out. If they cross your mind randomly, reach out and let them know. Let a few weeks pass and then check in again about ways that you can support. Ultimately people want to know that they haven’t been forgotten after a life changing event has passed. They want to know that someone is keeping them in mind, and that they have at least one or a few people who they can call on when their head is above water and they have a clearer idea of what kind of support they need. But of course, if they’ve asked for some time to themselves, give em time. That, too, is a gift.

Now, as a recovering people pleaser (anxious attachments unite!), I cannot stress how important it is to establish healthy boundaries as the giver AND receiver. “No” or “not right now” is a complete answer. If someone is overstepping your boundaries and smothering you with offers to help, it may take a bit more energy to let them know your limits, but it is okay to ask for some space before they reach out again. I like the good ol’ compliment sandwich approach. “You have been so gracious in your offer to help. I am feeling overwhelmed at this time. I hold you in my heart and look forward to reaching out to you in a few weeks.” If you absolutely do not have the capacity to be the support that someone needs, you can express your love for them, regret that you cannot show up in the way that they need, but that you can offer whatever is within your capacity. It really is all about communication and having some initially uncomfortable conversations, but ultimately honest and heartfelt conversations.

Let’s get into some specific examples from my line of work. We do not handle death well as a society. It’s uncomfortable, it’s scary, and it brings up some hard emotions. When someone you know is grieving (whether that’s the loss of an elder or the loss of a baby), what’s most important to keep in mind is that eventually the calls stop, the sympathy cards peter out, the casseroles stop coming. One of the most compassionate things you can do, is check in a few weeks/months after the death. If this person is really close to you, take note of the death anniversary and try to reach out, take on an errand, or do something nice for them around that time. Say the deceased loved one’s name, and share a fond memory you have of them or a way that they may have impacted your own life. Find out if there are any cultural grief practices that would be meaningful to them (repast, sitting Shiva, military commemoration, etc). Also significant to note that someone can be grieving a loss other than a death (divorce, unemployment, friendship, physical ability).

As someone prepares to give birth, they may want some help getting the home set up and ready for baby. You can offer to wash baby’s clothes, fold, and organize them. You can offer to wash and sanitize baby bottles/pump parts. Perhaps, with their input, you can help to start a meal train for them so that they have prepared meals for the week leading up to the birth, and for the few weeks postpartum. Could they use a light housecleaning or a deep clean? You can offer it yourself or offer to pay for a service. Gift them a birth/postpartum doula (wink wink)! During postpartum, you can offer to do all of these things as well; the laundry, dishes, meals, cleaning, etc. Don’t just come over and fawn over baby. Ask and genuinely listen to how the birthing person and their partner are doing and coping. If there are other children in the home, can you babysit or take them for a day or more to help lighten the parenting load. Parents with a newborn need adult time too, so feel free to talk about things other than the children.

In general for anyone going through a life transition or celebrating something, a greeting card, a gift card, a meal, and offering your time and skills in any capacity, go a long way. Establish and maintain those boundaries so that you can show up as your full, best selves. And if folks haven’t stepped up in the way that you expected, ask if they have the capacity to help and then, if so, ask for what you need. Looking forward to hearing your feedback, as always. This is such a dope community!


Doula Jo

This Newsletter was inspired by a book I read last year, of the same title,

“How We Show Up” by Mia Birdsong. Brilliant read!