How to ask for help

They say good help is hard to find—and family after family illustrates that beautifully when caregiving needs arise.

Image: Ambro /

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 Image: Ambro

Image: Ambro

If you are the primary caregiver, don’t assume that it has to be all you, all the time. But also don’t assume you are going to get help unless you ask. Very specifically.

Why? It depends. Sometimes your family sees you as the strong person and forget you need a rest. Sometimes they see it as your “job,” letting themselves off the hook. Sometimes they don't want to “impose”—and sometimes they are just oblivious. But this is particularly true if you never look like you need help, or demure when someone offers. Once they have offered for awhile, they forget. So right from the start, try to divide up chores, or build in respite for yourself.

Ask yourself what you really want. If it’s hands-on help:

o   Be sure that when someone asks, “What can I do?” you have a concrete suggestion. Keep a checklist on the refrigerator (or better yet, online) where everyone can see it.

o   Assign family members the roles they do well—or at least the roles they will do (it’s not a help if it never happens). Offload the groceries, the lawn care, the laundry., the book-keeping.

o   If they live far away (or feel they are too busy) ask for a monetary contribution. A few hours of respite care from a home health agency or senior care facility can go a long way towards maintaining your sanity.

It could be, however, that you have all that under control, and really you just want a little appreciation. Then say so. But in a nice way, and before you start to boil over.  A good start is a weekly phone call where your job is to vent and theirs is to tell you what a great job you’re doing.

A final note: Don’t waste time and energy worrying about the people who aren’t being useful. You need all your energy for yourself.