My parents taught me (Barbara), “To give is better than to receive. Don’t ask for handouts. Pull your own weight.” All great advice to live a self-sufficient existence. Sometimes, however, even the strongest individuals need to ask for caregiving help.
Asking others for their assistance is hard. As we age and our physical abilities change, many of us adamantly refuse to admit we need a hand. When well intentioned folks offer to help, we feel embarrassed and decline their generosity.
In the book, Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need, author M. Nora Klaver says there are several reasons why people wait until they are desperate to seek assistance. People are uncomfortable and afraid to ask. Also, we value our independence and no one may have taught us how to ask for help.
She says that we don’t recognize we have a need until we are in a crisis. Often, we are unclear about exactly what we need, or we ask the wrong person to help fulfill our request.
Tap into local service organizations such as the Girl Scouts or teenagers who need to fulfill volunteer hours for their school.
Klaver’s book lays out a seven-step “Mayday!” process. The first step is “name the need.” That means: Be specific about your need and be open to possibilities. This may sound simple, but it will take some analysis of your situation.
Acknowledge You Need Caregiving Help
For many years, I (Barbara) tried ignoring the gradual effects of a progressive neuromuscular disease that caused my fingers to curl from atrophy, weakened my legs until I could not walk and made me a full-time wheelchair user. Despite a dramatic and obvious physical deterioration, I stubbornly refused to ask for help because no one wants to be labeled “weak.”
Gradually, Jim (my husband) took over more of the household duties, while working a full-time job. Like 44 million people in the U.S., Jim is a family caregiver. Everyday needs — like grocery shopping and preparing meals — became stressful tasks. Although Jim never complained, he couldn’t do it all.
Living a stoic life wasn’t the answer. Together, Jim and I learned it’s OK to ask for and accept a helping hand.
How To Ask for Help
Here are eight ways to do it:
1. Define your needs. If you or someone you love needs to ask for help, begin the process by making a list. Write down the precise concerns such as transportation, food preparation, household chores, running errands, yard work and pet care. What can be delegated to a service? Determine which tasks can be removed by hiring someone — perhaps a housekeeping or lawn service. Which needs could be met with volunteers?
2. Brainstorm possible solutions with friends and family. Can a meal or two each week be supplemented by purchasing entrees from the local Farmers Market? Think outside the box. If you need a ramp built and don’t have the funds to hire a carpenter, call your local builder’s association and ask if there’s a community outreach program.
3. Build your support network. Make a list of everyone you know who might be interested in volunteering their time to assist you. Talk to friends, neighbors and family members. Tap into local service organizations such as the Girl Scouts or teenagers who need to fulfill volunteer hours for their school.
4. Match talents to needs. Someone who is a whiz at organizing might be willing to help file paperwork once a month. When neighbors are running errands, ask them to text you. They won’t mind picking up a few items at the grocery store, especially when it’s a trip they planned to make. Remember to keep a stash of cash or write a check immediately when someone makes a purchase for you. A teenager in your neighborhood might be willing to rake leaves or walk a dog.
5. Keep a list of how others can assist you. Write everything down, from changing a light bulb to needing a bunch of bananas. No job is too small. People are busy, but many tasks — unloading a dishwasher, sweeping the sidewalk, or making a bed — can be accomplished in 15 minutes or less.
6. Be specific. People are sincere in their desire to help, but you have to be explicit about your needs. “Can you help me cook a meal once a week?” is a specific request. Let your list of volunteers know exactly how they can help and set a time to accomplish the task. Coordinating the helpers is your responsibility. People are not mind readers.
7. Manage the assistance. I now have a group of more than a dozen “Helper Friends.” I send my request to several people so no one person becomes overburdened. Some of my helpers stop by to assist and are gone in less than 20 minutes. Others enjoy helping and staying to chat. Be respectful of everyone’s time limitations. If you want an easy way to coordinate help, use an online care community. Setup is simple when you use websites like TakeThemAMeal.com or LotsaHelpingHands.com.
8. Say thanks. Express your gratitude. Invite all your volunteer friends over for a “thank you” lunch (order take-out) or mail personal notes to acknowledge the people who make your life easier. They’ll really appreciate it.