Yesterday, I read an excellent blog post titled “Asking for Help” on the Caregiver Space. The article is chock full of good ideas and practical advice. It was the comments that got me thinking, though. Many sounded like this:
What if no one asks if they can help? That’s my problem….. I’m here 24/7, if someone would ask if they could come stay here for a little while for me to get out, I might take them up on it, but nobody offers that….. It’s hard…..it’s been 3 years….. A lot of people say….call me if you need anything….. But that’s not the same as a real offer….
Others on the Facebook posting of the blog said they did ask for help, but the response from siblings was ‘I think I’m busy’.
So, what’s going on with caregivers who aren’t getting the help they need from family and friends?
Fear of asking for help
There’s a cop in the head of many caregivers and that cop repeats things like, ‘you should be able to do this alone. What’s the big deal with doing laundry or shopping or banking for Mom?’ Many caregivers believe that they are shirking their obligations and actually betraying the love they feel for a dependent loved one if they ask for help. It feels like an admission of failure in the most important job of your life.
Caregiving websites are littered with blog posts, resources and inspirational sayings about self-care. We’ve all heard that we must care for ourselves in order to care effectively for our loved ones. So, why is it so hard to ask for help? And why do people say no when finally the request is made?
One answer could be that by the time a request is made, the caregiver is so exhausted and angry that the request sounds angry. And a caregiver who is overwhelmed is not going to be asking for something small, the request is likely to be for someone to come and ‘take over’ for a few days. That’s not unreasonable when one sibling (or parent) is doing the lion’s share of care. But there may be a good reason that even someone who wants to help will say no in this situation.
Fear of the unknown
Caregivers who aren’t used to asking for help often don’t share the details of their caring lives with family and friends. Not sharing stories and information is part of the ‘Oh, I can do it myself, it’s all fine” modus operandi of the caregiver who is locked in the time bomb of ‘look after your own’ mentality. Family and friends who are asked to help someone in an emergency whose needs they know nothing about will be afraid to help, especially if the request sounds angry or desperate.
How to get the help you need
Change the words of the cop in the head – say instead, “I need my family and friends to be on my team. I need to help train them. And that training will take time and encouragement.”
Begin training on a good day, when everything feels under control. Think of what members of your family naturally like to do or talents they might have. The agenda is to familiarise your future team members on the needs of your loved one. Remember, every caring task by itself is perfectly doable. But taken together and over time, caregivers become overwhelmed trying to do everything alone. Pick one task you think a friend or relative might be able to do. Ask that person to do that task once a week for a month with a promise to re-evaluate on both sides after the trial period. Some caregivers might not have the words to make that first request. Try saying, “I know you love cooking and we always love all the treats you prepare. I don’t have time to cook a healthy meal every night, so I wondered if you would like to make us a meal once a week for a trial period of month or so? You could pick a day of the week that works for you and we can check in after a month to see if that day works for us all. What do you think?”
The reality is that most people want to help, but they don’t know how. And they see the danger of becoming overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important to choose small tasks that people can absorb into their lives and feel good about helping in a way that exploits their talents without feeling out of control. Once family and friends have some experience in helping that feels good, they will be much more likely to help out in an emergency. They’ll be your teammates in caregiving.
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.