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."

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