Asking for Help: Overcoming Common Barriers and Obstacles

Recently I was talking to a group of working daughters and the conversation, perhaps inevitably, turned to siblings who don’t pull their fair share, or help out at all.

“Sounds like we should talk about how to ask for and get the help we need,” I said. Two of the women looked at me, puzzled. Then a third said, “I don’t have any trouble asking for help.”


We’re all so good at asking for and receiving help aren’t we? The truth is, most of us are not and the reasons why vary. The most common obstacles to asking for what we need are thinking:

  • I don’t need help.
  • I should do this.
  • I don’t want to bother anyone.
  • Asking for help makes me look weak/lazy/incapable/selfish….
  • It won’t be done right.

But for every thought that blocks us from asking for and receiving the help we both need and deserve, there is a counter thought that will help us access the support we need.

I don’t need help. If you think you don’t need help, I challenge you to ask yourself, what’s not working for you? Are you not getting enough sleep, or exercise? Are you cutting corners at work? Do you wish you had more time, with your spouse, kids, grandkids or friends? Guess what, you could use some help.

I should do this. If you think that you should be the one to do all of the caregiving tasks, know this, should is someone else’s value system playing in your head. When we act on our “shoulds” instead of our wants, it leads to resentment and burnout.

Write down every single thought that starts with the word “should.” I should spend more time with my mother. I should be more patient with my father. I should keep my siblings better informed about what’s going on. I should be a better daughter. Once you think you’ve listed them all, think again and add some more. Now, take that piece of paper with all of your shoulds listed on it and rip it up. Instead write down what you want – for you – and act on it. No one else knows why you make the choices you make – nor do they need to

I don’t want to bother anyone. If you don’t ask for help because you don’t want to bother anyone, know this, asking for help is an act of strength and generosity. Think about it. Your friends and family want the opportunity to support you. They may feel helpless watching you struggle as a caregiver. Be generous and give them the opportunity to help you.

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Asking for help makes me look weak/lazy/incapable/selfish, etc. If you worry about what asking for help says about you, then ask yourself this, what are you gaining from taking on all of the burden? Do you like getting sympathy from others? Are you uncomfortable sharing the spotlight? Does your caregiver role make you feel special? Do you think you don’t deserve joy without suffering? Be honest with yourself.

Now, make a list of all of your great qualities. Notice that you are wonderful for many reasons and that how much you take on as a caregiver doesn’t define you.

It won’t be done right. If you don’t ask for help, because you think no one else can do what I do/as well as I do it, that might be a true statement. But so what? A job completed is still a job completed. Sometimes we need to accept good enough.

Make a list of the tasks you do as a caregiver, and then identify a few that don’t require perfection. Maybe you’re not ready to give up attending doctors’ appointments because you want to make sure you get all of your questions answered, or you don’t feel comfortable asking anyone else to help with money management and bill paying. But are you really the only one who can clean the house? Does it really matter if someone else buys the groceries and brings home the wrong brand of paper towels? It does not. Let it go.

Now that you’re more aware of why you don’t get the help you need and deserve, think about where you can get some more support. Your siblings are not your only option (and may not be an option at all. (Read: The Truth About Siblings and Caregivers.) Friends and neighbors may be willing, and want, to help. Your employer may be open to giving you some extra support at work in the form of EAP programs, a flex schedule or a change in assignments. Your local council on aging or senior center may have resources you can access. Support groups offer emotional support.

Pro tip: Be prepared to accept help. Keep a list of all of the things you wish someone would help you handle. Also, keep post it notes, thank you cards and stamps in your bag at all times. The next time someone asks, “How can I help?” choose an item from the list, note their name next to it, give them their assignment on a Post It, and send them a thank you* when you have some downtim

*Optional and not expected, but it will make you feel good.

You might also like:

The Best Caregiving Advice I Ever Received


5 comments on “Asking for Help: Overcoming Common Barriers and Obstacles”

  1. Haralee Reply

    Great tips! If a sibling cannot or will not give their time, ask for money. If there is a sibling still asking your parents/in-laws for money try to put a stop to it! From experience I will say if you don’t make the sibling be adult once the parents are gone they will expect their sibling to care for them unless of course they have manipulated the parents’ estate to care for them .

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