Asking for help to be independent


It is possible to believe too much in the virtue of independence.

Exhibit 1: my father. He wants to believe he is completely independent, and resists almost every offer of help. But he is 85, and at that age, there are quite simply a lot of things you should not do on your own, and many you should not attempt to do even in company. Such as anything involving a ladder, and most things involving motorised vehicles.

The challenge is that for most of his life, doing things around the house and driving were part of his idea of self sufficiency. He would naturally prefer not to acknowledge his limitations, and to retain his belief in his own independence. Because he believes that if he can’t replace a lightbulb without asking for help, and if he can no longer drive, he may as well give up and move into the old folks’ home.

The thing is, accepting help would mean he could stay in his home longer. Instead of falling off a ladder and ending up in hospital from where it is a fast track to assisted living, he could get someone in (me, for example) to get up that ladder and change the lightbulb for him. Giving up driving doesn’t mean being housebound, it means taking taxis and no longer having to worry about parking and not ending up in front of a JP for not noticing that pedestrian on the crossing. In refusing to make changes, he is confusing the symbols of independence with actual independence.

Accepting help is a skill that needs to be developed right alongside learning to take care of yourself. Independence is great, but it can’t always be achieved alone. By judiciously accepting help, he’d retain real independence.