THE BLOG
02/22/2011 02:21 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Parentless Parents: The Challenge of Asking for Help

Is it hard to ask for help?

It is for me. My mom died when I was seven-years-old. When you lose a parent young, or when your parents weren't there for you for whatever reason, you learn to be fiercely independent. Not because you want to be, but because you have to be.

Then there is the issue of feeling like you don't deserve help. If you are the one always giving to others, it can feel very strange to be in the position of needing help. We can feel like we are a burden when we have needs. This can be true for you even if you had great parents growing up, however, I see it most frequently in people who didn't.

In 1995 Hope Edelman published the book "Motherless Daughters" and it gave a framework to how that early loss shapes the women we become. Since 1996 I have been running Motherless Daughters of Los Angeles, and as a motherless daughter, and a psychotherapist, have met and worked with hundreds of amazing women who have all experienced early mother loss.

One of the motherless daughters I worked with told the story of having to cook for her brother after her Mom died. She was only eight and remembers having to stand on a stool to cook eggs. This same woman, as an adult, still has trouble asking for help. For example, she was dating a nice man and they were going on a trip together. On the plane she gets a Perrier. When she tried to open it, she couldn't. The cap was on too tight for her small hands to budge. So she just put it down. Her guy said, "Why didn't you ask me to help you with that?" She said, "It didn't occur to me."

Asking for help puts you in a vulnerable position. The person you are asking might just say no, and then what? "I can do it myself" is a mantra for many of us who grew up too soon. The fear of relying on someone can be so overpowering, because that person might just die too, that we would rather not risk it. In some ways this independence is good and makes us strong. In other ways, it can be very lonely. We can even be too afraid to get married and/or have children.

In her follow-up book, "Motherless Mothers," Hope wrote about what it's like to be a mother when you don't have one. Parenting without a map, so to speak. In her new book, "Parentless Parents," Allison Gilbert writes about what it's like to raise children when both your parents are gone. There is no one there to ask for help when you most need it. While many motherless daughters have been too afraid to marry, or have children, those of us who did those things revisit grief on another level when our child is without that Grandparent. The thing I missed the most was not having her here to tell me how my son was like me, or not like me, at that age.

Recently, I have been asking for help more. It's a great feeling when people say yes. Some even say yes, of course, with pleasure. That still freaks me out. Sure some people say no, but that's pretty rare. It's still scary for me, but when it works out, I feel so much less alone.

If you're scared to ask for help, when you really need it, I recommend starting off slowly and asking someone you can pretty much count on to say yes. That gives you something you can build on. It's scary but being alone and lonely is too.

You can find more information on Motherless Daughters here.