Ask Ada: How Can I Ask For Help When I Don’t Know What I Need?

Plus: how to get your surly teenager to treat their diabetes seriously.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How Can I Ask My Friends For Help When I Don’t Know What I Need?

Dear Ada, 

I just delivered a stillborn baby. It was completely unexpected, as I was full term with what seemed to be a healthy pregnancy. As you can imagine, my husband and I feel like our world collided around us. I don’t know what to think, how to process this, or well, I have no clue how to exist.

I’m fortunate to have a very supportive group of friends and family. Too supportive, if that even is a thing. You think it would be a blessing, but it’s not right now. Everyone keeps telling me they don’t know how to help me and asking me what I need. I don’t know what I need! There’s so much pressure. How can I let them help me? What can they do?

Help Me Let Them Help Me

Dear Help Me,

I’m so sorry that you experienced this sudden and profound loss. However, you want practical advice, and not my condolences, so let’s get right to it.

It’s all too common in the aftermath of a crisis, that people want to help., but they don’t take the initiative to help. And that’s such a problem, because when your world is reeling through grief or shock, initiative is often what you need most. I remember when there was a death in my family, one of the biggest gestures a friend made was just coming by with a bunch of pre-cooked meals, unbidden. If only all friends had this kind of initiative!

Even when friends don’t, though, they can still help you through this. So if someone you know asks what you need, first, think of your immediate and practical needs, such as food, cleaning, and errands. Ask someone close to organize a meal train, in which the members of your community can sign up for time slots to drop off food that they either cooked or picked up from one of your favorite restaurants. Suggest they use a site such as Meal Train, so you can list any ingredient preferences or food allergies. Plus, this will keep everyone organized so you don’t end up with an overflowing fridge one week and an empty one the next.

Cleaning is something else that others can pitch in to help with, whether they do it themselves or hire someone to do it for you. After the stress that’s been placed on your body with the delivery, you need time to rest and heal. Dishes, vacuuming, laundry, and all your other less-than-favorite tasks can, and should, get offloaded. Are you particularly close to a neighbor? If they’re offering to help, let them take out the trash and return your barrels for the next few weeks.

Errands are another way your friends and family can be helpful. They can cart you around to your follow-up medical appointments or make a trip to the store or bank for you. Don’t forget the stuff you’ve been putting off, either, as that adds to your mental load. Need an oil change? Give someone that task. It will make them feel like they’re doing something when they’re feeling helpless, and it will be one less thing for you to think about. 

Besides the practical things you need help with, it’s okay to be honest and tell the people in your life that you don’t know exactly what you need, but that it would help you if they volunteered to do something concrete versus asking you to come up with the task.

As for the less practical stuff — you’ll also want to explain that sometimes you’ll need their company, and other times you’ll want to be alone. You may want to talk about your loss, or you may want to avoid the subject. Telling your family and friends that the most helpful thing they can do is to follow your lead is one of the most productive things you can suggest: you need their patience, love, and closeness, but it’s okay to have it be on your terms.

How Can I Get My Teenager To Treat His Diabetes Seriously?

Dear Ada, 

My 15-year-old son has diabetes, and I don’t think he takes very good care of himself. I have to constantly nag him to take his insulin. When he was younger he did such a great job taking his blood glucose levels and now that he’s a teen it’s as if he cares about nothing at all. 

I know it is something that embarrasses him (I don’t know why!) so I try not to mention it around his friends, but when I have a flock of high school boys eating everything in my kitchen day in and day out, it’s hard not to get on him about healthy food choices, insulin use, and monitoring his levels. I don’t expect him to be responsible everywhere in his life, but I do when it comes to his health. How can I keep him healthy?

Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom, 

Ah, the teenage years. To desire independence, but reflect away any of the responsibility that comes along with it.

It isn’t that your son doesn’t care about managing his diabetes or that he’s given up, but more so that he’s not making it a priority in his life. While he might have done a better job when he was younger with the routine things he needs to do, like taking blood glucose levels, he also had you to monitor and assist. The responsibility was never completely his own. 

Now, as he gets older, it seems like you’re expecting him to step up, and start taking the lead — which is great! You might just need to adjust your expectations and actions slightly.

First, as to expectations. Keep encouraging your child to take the lead on his diabetes care. As he ages and leaves your home, he’ll be completely responsible, so teaching him that self care is a priority now is the best thing you can do for him. But, know that he’s not completely mentally ready to be responsible for his own health at this age. While you’re trying handing over the reigns, understand that he’s going to make mistakes, be forgetful, and need your guidance.

Set up a time to have a serious conversation with your son about caring for his diabetes. Explain that while you don’t expect him to be responsible for everything in his life, you are going to require that he step up with this one thing. 

Then, ask him how he’d like to organize both your and his involvement. Can he set alarms on his phone? Should he have a checklist near the calendar that he signs off on (so you can see he’s doing what’s required of him)? When should you check in to make sure he’s done what’s necessary, if he isn’t telling you? In this conversation, set consequences, too. If he doesn’t do what is required of him, what are the repercussions? Another option is to tie his care into a reward. If he proves to you he will do a better job, can he earn something he’s been wanting, possibly driving lessons or allowance?

You lead the conversation with questions and suggestions, but let him be the person who makes the decisions. Taking ownership is the first step to fulfilling his responsibility.

As for the flock of children eating you out of house and home: you don’t need to use these moments to remind your son about his diabetes treatment, but if their choice of food is something that worries you, the best (and possibly onlye) thing you can do is adjust what type of food is available for snacking. This might not be the most popular action, but you can at least worry less about food consumption if they’re indulging is limited to diabetes-friendly food choices.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.