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Why is “Yes, Thank You” so Hard to Say?

Graffiti in Ottawa, September 2015
Graffiti in Ottawa, September 2015

“Yes, thank you”. Three little words acknowledging an offer, expressing gratitude. Implicit permission for the generous soul to follow through and act on the offer.

Three words that are, in theory, easy to say. English 101.

But in fact, accepting help is a bit trickier. I know I’m not good at it. Surely, I can’t be the only one?

Sometimes, I refuse help because I think I can accomplish the task better than the person offering the favour. “I’ll do the dishes!” I volunteer at home because I don’t just wash the pots, I also put the food away, clean the countertops and leave the place spotless—the way I like it. The bedroom can be a mess, I don’t care. But I like it when the kitchen is clean. So since I want it done my way, it makes sense to volunteer for the chore.

Sometimes, I do whatever needs to be done because I’m faster. I could ask Mark to take off his clothes before bath time but really, I don’t always have 30 minutes to watch him struggling with his pants and socks. Hint: it works better if you unzip them and if you sit down to take off your socks—jumping until your pants fall off may be funny to your date twenty years from now, but tonight, it annoys mommy. So I do it myself if we are in a rush, just to speed up the endless bedtime routine.

Sometimes, I refuse help because I like to feel independent. Feng and I share the car—in theory. In practice, he is the unofficial driver and I’m the passenger. I hate asking for rides. It makes me feel like a little kid, and why would he make a detour? Oh, he would, he is nice. But I feel bad asking if he doesn’t spontaneously offer.

Sometimes, I refuse “favours” because I don’t want to feel indebted. For instance, when I was a teen, I have never been able to enjoy letting a guy buy me a drink. Even though it’s probably part of the dating game, having a man foot the bill made me feel very uneasy (it still does!).

Sometimes, I refuse help because I’m not even aware I need help. This was the case with Mark. I simply couldn’t comprehend that even a loving mother occasionally needs a break. In my mind, Mark was my responsibility and I had to be in charge 24/7, else… else what? I don’t know. What I did understand after a while was that no matter how involved and dedicated I was, I didn’t receive my “mother of the year” award and that I had unrealistic standards.

They say it takes strength to ask for help because when you do so, you acknowledge that you are not perfect. Your weaknesses because obvious.

But maybe it’s okay not to be perfect. Gaining another perspective is precious and now, I welcome expertise, tips and insight. This includes your feedback in comments, by the way, may it be parenting tips, travel advice or just general FYI. I discovered books, movies, and various perspectives and learned countless bits of trivia thanks to readers who took a few minutes to write. I am grateful to you all.

Self-reliance is an asset you develop pretty quickly as an immigrant. When you start a new life somewhere across the world, you initially lose your social network, cultural references and family support. You have to be in charge of your life because there is no one else to lean on. Building a new network will take time, and by then, you’re used to taking care of everything.

But you don’t always have to cope alone.

So if someone offers help, pause, think about it, and don’t be afraid to say it—“yes, thank you.”

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