If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done
Fact: Caregivers need help.
Fact: Many caregivers have trouble asking for help.
Fact: When friends and family say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, caregivers stifle the urge to scream.
There are so many things wrong with this ‘offer of help’. First, it’s a lazy response to a real need – it’s an easy ‘out’. A person who truly wants to be helpful should try to imagine your situation and offer some possible actions that will lighten your load; actions that a friend will actually carry out within days. Secondly this ‘offer of help’ puts the onus of asking on the caregiver which feels like a veiled way of discouraging a caregiver from actually putting in a request.
As a caregiver community, we need to have a ready response to this ubiquitous saying.
An Experiment: Think of three things that someone could do that would be really helpful. These might include walking the dog, delivering a prepared meal or staying with your loved one for a couple of hours once a week.
The next time anyone says, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, have your answer ready. Say, “thank you for asking, yes! Would you…?” and just pick one task from your list of three. At first, tasks should be one-time, simple jobs that are easy to complete. Once people get in the habit of helping and they know your daily reality a little better, they might expand the range of their helpful actions. Remember to put a time frame on your request – pin down a commitment. Offering heartfelt gratitude when someone does follow through is a good way to keep them coming back. Everyone likes to know that their helpful act has made a positive difference.
Try this and let me know how it goes!
Donna Thomson is a caregiver, author and activist. Her book, The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned From a Life of Caregiving (House of Anansi Press, 2014) is available from all major booksellers in the USA and Canada.