4 Effective Ways to Ask for Help - and Get It

Why is it so hard for family caregivers to ask friends and family for help? They may be in the throes of a crisis or bone-weary, but there's something about that independent, I-can-do-it-myself American way that gets in our way. Caregivers, it's OK - and wise - to let go. I can't say it enough: You don't, and shouldn't, do all the caregiving.

I recently heard California bioethicist Viki Kind, a former family caregiver and author of the Caregiver's Path to Compassionate Decision Making, talk about why caregivers have such a hard time asking for what they need.

Kind described a friend who was the ultimate caregiver for her in-laws, parents and an ill daughter-in-law. In other words, her hands were more than full. Her family was together at a holiday party - Kind was invited - and guess who was hosting? Besides being a party planner, Kind's friend was the go-to, primary caregiver. And yes, there were other family members around who could pitch in.

Were they selfish? Hard to say, but for some, it hadn't crossed their minds to offer (don't ask why). "Many are willing and can be trained, but we have to begin training them," says Kind.

Her friend's reasons for not requesting help: "they don't want to, I don't have time to teach them, they wouldn't like what I need them to do." Kind was mystified. "She wasn't even asking!"

Kind has a four step-process for anyone (and who doesn't?) who wants help but feels uncomfortable speaking up:

  1.  If you're reluctant to ask for help, figure out what stops you and write it down, i.e. "they won't know what to do."
  2. Then write something to counteract your fear: "I can teach them or maybe I can do it differently."
  3. Make a list of what you wish and need help with: having your lawn mowed; chipping in to pay for in-home or respite care; driving Mom to appointments or the hair dresser's; picking up medicine; providing supper; paying bills; disseminating medical updates; or researching community resources. Carry that list with you so if someone asks, you can have concrete requests.
  4. Give people a choice. Let them pick a task they're good at and feel comfortable doing.

For other resources, check out LotsaHelpingHands, CaringBridge, the AARP Caregiving Resource Center and the Well Spouse Association.

In-person, online or telephone support groups and forums also offer ideas and a well-needed outlet.

What techniques work for you? What have you found doesn't work?

Photo by Frau Haselmayer courtesy of Creative Commons

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