When I was five years old, I convinced my bá ngoại (maternal grandma) to take me to the mall. I knew exactly how to get there: all we needed to do was walk around the corner and hop on the bus- easy peasy. What could go wrong?
Only, my five-year-old self had no clue there were multiple buses...with different routes. My bá ngoại, who recently immigrated to the U.S. and didn’t speak any English, had no clue either. I vaguely remember asking the bus driver, “This bus goes to [old home address], right?” but can’t recall what the bus driver said. We ended up in a completely different city than where home was. I remember feeling scared, not knowing where we were, but also not wanting to call my parents to tell them we were lost. I didn’t want them to know that I made such a huge mistake- I should’ve known there were more than one bus routes. We walked around the Safeway for a while before a woman eventually figured out we were lost and helped my bá ngoại call my parents.
That probably wasn’t the first time I didn’t want to ask for help, and it definitely wasn’t the last time. Even now, I’ll struggle to do something (like reach for something on a high cabinet...short people problems) and my husband will yell at me for not asking him to help. (I will, however, 100% of the time ask him to kill spiders for me.)
Whether explicit or implicit, many children of immigrants often get the message we shouldn’t ask for help. For some, asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness, especially when we’re expected to be self-sufficient and handle things on our own. We may have been told if we worked harder, everything would be ok. Sometimes asking for help is seen as bringing shame to the family, or burdensome to our parents, elders, or others in our communities. Or perhaps, as is probably the case for many of our immigrant parents and family members, we might know where to ask for help, or how to ask for help, due to language barriers.
Sure, there might be times when we can get through things on our own (like reaching on my tippy-toes to get a dish). But for other times, like when we might be struggling with mental health issues, emotional or relational wounds, we may need help- from our friends, community, healers, or mental health professionals.
What if, instead, we could see help-seeking as a strength? What if we normalized asking for help, to be as natural as saying please and thank you? I try to send this message to my daughter: to try things on her own, but to ask for help if she needs it. I explicitly say to her, “Let me know if you need help” so she knows it’s ok to ask for help.
Dear reader, this message is for you too. It’s ok, courageous even, to ask for help.