Family Won’t Help With Caregiving? How to Change Their Mind


Few things can make us feel crazier than expecting something from someone who has nothing to give.
- Melody Beattie

Though asking for help can be empowering, it is counter-cultural. We're taught to be stoic, not how to ask for help. Yes, how you ask determines your success. In a healthy family asking is pretty safe, but functional families are rare.

Most families have some imbalance of power, an inability to communicate, or simply a lack of kindness. Will they think you're not up to the job, be angry with you for asking, or pooh-pooh what you're saying because they can't admit there's a problem?

Coming smack up against your fears is your commitment to do your best caregiving. There is a way of asking for help that can work, but what do I mean by "work?" Your goal clarity determines your success. Let's say you need a break and want to call your sister to talk it over. If you define success as getting her to offer help, you've put yourself in a vulnerable position. You might self-righteously think, She OUGHT to offer to help out - this is OUR mother! While that's an understandable thought, you are setting yourself up for an upset. Your expectations are your worst enemy. Your goals and attitude are your keys to success. Let's see how such a conversation with a sister might play out.

  1. Define Your Goal

    Define your goal for the conversation simply: "I want to know how she is willing to help" or "I want her to brainstorm solutions with me."

  2. Dump Your Expectations

    Expectations make you vulnerable to resentment, an unnecessary energy drain. Your sister's life may be more complicated than you know. She may have her own difficulty accepting the situation. Decide that if she agrees to help, it's a blessing. Don't hang the relationship on one conversation.

  3. Be Clear

    Be clear within yourself and explicit in your words about exactly what would help. "I need three hours off each week;" Or "I need help in these ways..." Clear thinking and speaking increase the chances of getting helpful results. Do you just want her to listen? Or to give you advice? Do you want her to participate in another way that works for her?

  4. Be Gracious and Focused

    If you ask and she says No, thank her for considering it. Stay focused on your goal. You want help while preserving peace of mind, which means avoiding getting sidetracked by resentment.

  5. Make Room for a Different Solution

    Finally, ask her what she would be willing to do to support you. If the answer is nothing, get it elsewhere. During caregiving, people you thought would be helpful may disappear, while others who were distant may step forward. When you are done asking, if you still need help, contact local social service agencies, senior centers, or churches. Find people trained in the field of caregiving who can tell you your options.

Holly Whiteside is caregiver's coach and author of "The Caregiver's Compass: How to Navigate with Balance and Effectiveness Using Mindful Caregiving."

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


I thought I'd take the "healthy" approach a couple of years ago. I asked my 3 siblings (2 older and 1 younger -- between the ages of 54 and 62) to meet me for dinner. (I think they thought I was going to tell them I was dying and they would have to take over!). I was very clear and direct about the situation. How I needed their help and the ways they could help. 2 older sibs ... I think ... forgot why we met for dinner. I bet they even forgot that I paid for it! I had several heart to heart talks with my younger sibling (4 years younger). I told him that I was so glad to have him in my life. He had been so supportive. I'm single and the rest are married...I told him it was hard doing this on my own and if nothing else to have someone to talk with. I provided moral support to him and his wife while they were pursuing a 2nd career in nursing. Paid for vacations, dinners, etc. They graduated 2 years ago. I guess my brother forgot about me. I try to convice myself that I'm an only child. I refuse to ever have my mom find out what is going on. She truly has been a wonderful mom to all of us and she doesn't deserve that. I want to totally disown them! I'm so hurt. I don't know why it has to be this way...but it is. One of the things this journey has taught me is to be more sensitive and aware of others in the same situation. Also, I'm the best person for this job...God has good taste! Prayers for all of us!
Sadly, sometimes asking for help just does not work out. I have no problem asking my aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors for help when I need it, but most times everyone puts their own needs/plans/likes ahead of my needs. I only ask for help if I really, really, really need it. For example, my dad had a dental problem this week and I could not take anymore time off work. Since I don't have siblings, I asked others and no one was willing to take him to the dentist. This was a simple request that would really have helped ME and my dad and it makes me feel really bad when others just are not willing to help when I need it most. Fortunately the dentist was kind enough to work him in late in the day so I could take him.
I've tried home healthcare agencies and have not had great experiences with the caretakers. Actually they caused me to have more stress, not less, so I stopped using them. It's harder than people think to hire help. Caretakers are often late or can't come last minute. Neighborhood kids don't want to do yard work or shovel snow for others even if I'm will to pay them. A lot of professional companies charge an outrageous price for a "small" job (fixing a fence, replacing small sidewalk, etc).
Thank you for the words of advice, or reminder that we caregivers remember to take care of ourselves first! I say that a lot but, when it comes down to it, I know I don't, and that is sad. I do let it get to me, though I try try try to stay positive, calm, patient . . . but like the bird said, Patience my ass, I wanna shoot something (pardon the french!). I get so tired of listening to myself and arguing with myself or my mind, sometimes I believe I am really losing it. People are so full of nicities, I feel like telling them to go to hell--and that wouldn't be "nice" either. I never wanted this job, I never volunteered for it and it is almsot the last thing I ever saw myself doing. Now, going on 23 years since mom's stroke, I have lost my home, gone through my savings, retired early just in time for the economy to take a crap, put all my eggs in a basket and blew $250,000 on a down payment on a house to keep the payments low and mom still reverse mortgages on me. Now I can look forward to being homeless when she passes. My teeth are falling out, my hair is following close behind it, while my siblings call or swing by when in the area to tell us about the cruise they are going on or the vacation they are going to go on and they just look at me like, "What are you complaining about now?" Really, any more I don't even give them the satisfaction of hearing my woes, it seems they believe I deserve it, probably because I always made more money than them or always got the breaks. Yeah, funny that the harder I worked, the luckier I got! Of course, I was too generous since I was made to feel guilty having it so together while they struggled. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, they just act like this is the way it has always been, me groveling. I have gotten paid absolutely nothing for my lifetime of giving to my greedy family with their appreciation factor at nil. Now Isometimes overhear things like, me and my boyfriend don't do anything for free, because I insisted on mom paying us a little bit out of her larger than necessary pensions from my father. She liked spending indiscriminately, donating to tbis or that, buying things she doesn't need but pay us anything for doing absolutely everything? NFW, so now I am the greedy little lowlife that nobody wants to hear from and whose email goes unanswered if I should even mention in small print that they possibly commit to one day per month to spend with mom so I could go see a friend or go relax somewhere. Our youngest sister was born with cerebral pslay and lives in a group home near the others and I am the ONLY person in the world since my daddy passed away that even stops in to see her. I will bring her home occasionally, but not nearly as often as I used to because we moved 65 miles away and I am always so stressed out taking care of mommy dearest, and you think mommy dearest wants to see her youngest? NOT, I guess it must take attention away from her, I swear I have never seen anything like this family. I don't know how I ever turned out half-way normal when all I am around are these self-centered, greedy, selfish people, OMG. Oh, well, I guess I've gone on enough, thank you for inviting me to vent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1