Caregiving can be difficult, stressful, and exhausting. Sometimes all at the same time.
According to a 2017 Associated Press/NORC poll, 77 percent of caregivers said their role was stressful, 52 percent said it was overwhelming, and almost half had difficulty balancing their caregiving duties and their career.
If you have a friend or loved one who is a caregiver, you likely have seen them run ragged at times under the weight of their responsibility and wished you could help.
However, it can be difficult to know from the outside how to help because every caregiving situations is unique. Not wanting to pry or be disruptive, you might think it feels easier to just bring over some lasagna when you know things are tough. After all, everyone has to eat, right?
Sure, but if the goal is to make your loved one’s life easier, there are likely better ways to do it that don’t involve forcing someone to cram a block of pasta into an already overstuffed freezer.
If you truly want to help your caregiving friend or loved one, try these simple tips.
Ask the Question
There is a difference between offering help and asking how you can help.
Most people don’t want to impose on others or be indebted to someone. We want to handle everything ourselves. We are reluctant to ask for help.
That’s why you shouldn’t tell your caregiving loved one, “If there’s anything you need, please let me know,” because a generic offer of help puts the onus on your loved one to do the specific asking.
As a result, they’re likely to say, “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind,” and never ask you for help.
So don’t make them ask. You ask. Say, “What can I do to help?” It’s the best way to avoid lasagna in the freezer.
Asking, “What can I do to help?” can actually be a frightening question. There are no limits on it. The person might ask you to bring a dish of Italian food, but they might also ask you to wash the dog or clean the bathroom.
So what a lot of people do is immediately start to guide the answer. “What can I do to help? Would you like me to bring over some lasagna?” They steer the answer to what they want it to be. Presenting someone with a list of things you’re willing to do for them is nice, but it’s not as helpful as saying, “Hey, I’m free on Saturday. What can I do for you that’s been a pain in your neck?”
If the goal is to truly make the person’s life easier, leave the question open.
Listen to the Answer
You’ve asked the question, and you haven’t restricted the answer. Now it’s time to use your ears.
Again, most people don’t want to be a bother, so they might not fess up to their real pain point right away. They might throw out something small while only hinting at the big stress hanging over their head. You might want no part of the big stress, and you might feel tempted to brush it aside and agree to do the small thing instead.
Taking care of a small thing is good, but it doesn’t fit the goal of truly making your caregiving loved one’s life easier. Better is to let them talk and give them the space to ask for the thing that would really help them out and have the ears to hear it.
Your loved one might not have an answer to your how-can-I-help question the first time you ask. Maybe not even the second or third time. But keep asking. Eventually, they’ll trust that you actually mean it and will give you an answer.
To learn more about caregiving and get suggestions for how to make it easier, download our free eBook Solutions to Common Caregiving Challenges.