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Four-Step Process: Asking For and Accepting Help

by Viki Kind

Viki Kind is a bioethicist, professional speaker and award-winning author of The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices for Those Who Can’t and her new Resource Workbook. Viki is an honorary board member of the Well Spouse Association. For additional resources or to book Viki to speak: 

I have cared for six members of my family for many years. And like many family caregivers, I have never been very good at asking for help. Thinking I had to do everything all the time caused me to have two breakdowns – once during my early years of caregiving and again at the end of my caregiving journey. As much as I loved taking care of my family members, I know that I have paid an emotional, physical, and financial price. But it did not have to be this way. I could have and should have asked for help. But when people told me, “Just make time for yourself,” it was not that easy. I was caught in a vicious cycle of give—give—give instead of give—receive—give—receive.

I recently said to my friend who is an overwhelmed caregiver, “Maybe you could teach the rest of your family what they need to do to help their father.” What I heard back were lots of excuses or what I call resistance statements:

  • I don’t want to be a bother.
  • They don’t want to help.
  • I don’t have time to teach them.
  • It is just easier if I do it.
  • Why should I have to ask? They should just know what to do.

Sound familiar? I knew her family would help if asked but the problem was that she was resisting asking for help. So let me ask you. If you had a broken shoulder, would it be okay to ask someone to carry your groceries to the car? If your car broke down, could you call for a tow truck? Your needs matter and you deserve to get the help you need. So whether you are a caregiver or someone with Parkinson’s who occasionally needs help, here is my four-step process of asking for and accepting help.

Step 1:  Explore what is keeping you from asking. Write down what goes through your head when someone says, “You should just ask for help.” Write down your resistance statements.

Step 2:  Take your list of resistance statements and now put a power statement beside it to help you get past what has been keeping you from asking for help. Here are some resistance statements and power statements that others have come up with:

  • They don’t want to help. Well I don’t really know because I haven’t given them a chance.
  • They don’t know what to do. I could teach them.
  • I don’t have time to teach them. I don’t have time because no one is helping me. If I teach them now, they can help again in the future.
  • It is just easier if I do it. Only the first time.
  • Why should I have to ask? They should just know what to do. Would I have known what to do before I became a caregiver? Then how would they know?

You may not be able to get past your barriers right away, but I hope you will begin (begin to do what?) so you will not break down like I did. I realized that even though others may not do things as well as I would, it will be good enough. (I have even realized that my brothers did some things better than I did.)

Step 3:  Make a list of all the things that would help you regarding practical, emotional, financial, and informational support. Write a really long list and carry it with you so when people say, “What can I do to help?” you can hand your list to them, and ask them what they would like to do. You can also email this list to people. (I know one person who emailed the list to her faith leader who then sent it out to the whole congregation.)

Ask for specific things:

  • Can you call dad each week and ask him about his favorite memories or talk to him about what is worrying him?
  • Can you call me every day to check on me? (This can be very helpful to keep your depression under control.)
  • Can you research what is the best ______ to buy to make life easier, more comfortable, or more fun?

People can help from a distance: 

  • Can another relative listen to Dad’s doctor’s appointment by speaker phone?
  • Can someone do the grocery shopping online and have the food delivered?
  • Can they take over paying the bills or set up automatic bill pay for you?
  • Can anyone send $______ a month so you can pay for three hours of respite care?

Maybe someone could create a phone tree to disseminate information. This way you can avoid making all the calls.

Local help:

  • Could you give him a ride on Thursday for his haircut?
  • Could you pick up some milk and eggs when you go to the store today?
  • Can you sit with Bob on Thursday night so I can go to my caregiver support group?

These are just a few ideas. I am sure you can come up with lots of ideas, big and small. (Do not hesitate to put everything on the list. You will be surprised by what people are willing to do.)

Step 4:  Ask a lot of people. You may need to ask five people to find one that will help you but that is okay because now you have one person who will help you. Ask people for things they can actually do. Different people have different abilities. Show them the list and let them choose what they would be comfortable doing.

Oh no, I hear your resistance statement coming through. “There is nobody I can ask.” Here is a power statement to help break through your resistance. There are more people who are willing to help in your circle of friends, family, and community than you think. Call a local faith community. (Some places will help people who are not members of their faith.) Call the local Area Agency on Aging and explain what you need. Tell the people in the hair salon about the struggles you are facing and maybe they know someone who can help. Many high schools require kids to do community service hours. Call the school and ask who might be available to help.

It may feel like a lot of work to begin to ask, but do not let this resistance stop you. Power through and remind yourself that you are not asking for this one time; you are training this person for the future. When they learn what to do, they might be able to help you every week or two.

Lastly, give gratitude even when you think your family should feel obligated to help. Of course they should help but let’s be realistic. Our practical goal is to get them to help more than they have been. Saying thank you and using words of appreciation will go a long way to reinforce their new helpful behavior.

And if that does not work, you can always say, “If you do not have time to help, then you are going to have to pay someone to help me.” That will get their attention. You will be surprised how many people will write a check to avoid having to do any caregiving. And if they say they cannot afford to help, then tell them, “You will need to find me a volunteer to help out.”

Have fun with this process and keep asking because your needs count too!