8 Ways To Help A Struggling Family.

*Editor’s Note- This is a guest post by our good friend Lisa Qualls. She is a writer, speaker, mom of 12, and the creator of Thankful Moms, where she writes about motherhood, adoption, faith, and grief. Lisa is a mom by birth and adoption. Along with her husband Russ, their adoption journey has been marked by joy as well as challenges of trauma and attachment. You can visit her blog here, and connect with her on Facebook here.

Even through our own difficult life circumstances, we often have the ability to help others who are struggling on this journey. But where do you begin, and how do you know what to do for someone in great need?

Female medicine doctor reassuring her patient

Last week I heard from a woman whose friend adopted a child and the family is struggling. Her heartfelt note asked what she could do to help. She wrote, “The mom looks sad and frustrated all of the time.”

She closed her email with, “What can I do to help? What can our church family do to help?”Let me offer a few thoughts…

1. Ask Her What She Needs.

*Go to her home.

Arrive with two lattes in hand, give her a hug, and listen. She may not know what she needs, but ask her, and if she isn’t sure, make some suggestions. She is likely isolated and will be thankful for a few moments with an adult. I remember standing on my porch and bursting into tears. The compassion on my friend’s face still comes to mind. Parenting a very difficult child is a lonely business.

*Her needs may surprise you.

Maybe she hasn’t had a haircut (or gone to the dentist, attended church, had an uninterrupted conversation with her husband, taken a nap) because she has nobody to care for her child from “hard places.”

2. Feed Them.

Everybody needs to eat, even in the midst of crisis. Invite other folks to join you in this simple task.

*Bring dinner once a week.
*Organize a cooking day and fill her freezer.
*Go grocery shopping each week.

Pick up her list (and debit card) and take one of her children along as your helper – he’ll feel special and your friend will have a break.

*Give restaurant gift cards.

Cards for kid-friendly restaurants, especially places that deliver, are perfect. These are also easy to gather from other friends.

3. Drive.

When life gets very hard, it’s difficult to leave the house. Things are left undone, and everyone grows frayed around the edges.

*Do weekly errands.

When our life was being lived moment-by-moment, many things fell through the cracks. Wardrobes grew smaller simply because I couldn’t get to the store to replace jeans with holes in the knees. Library books were overdue, prescriptions weren’t pick up – you get the picture.

Years later, this brings tears to my eyes; I felt overwhelmed and inadequate.

*Take her children to an activity on a regular basis.

In our isolation, the other children grew sad, stressed, and lonely. We never knew what kind of chaos an evening might hold, and we were exhausted; our default was to simply say “no” to everything. Sports and after-school activities were nearly impossible. If you’re signing your child up for basketball, youth group, or Boy Scouts, ask if her child would like to go too, and commit to all driving.

4. Clean.

*Simply show up.

She may be embarrassed by the state of her home. If she is spending hours with a high-need child, cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets, and mopping will slip down the list. One friend often stopped by, made tea, and as we talked, she swept my kitchen floor and washed the dishes alongside me, almost without me noticing.

*Fold laundry.

Call her in the morning to say you are stopping by that afternoon to fold laundry. She’ll keep the machines running if she knows you’re coming. Be sure to help her put it away. Once a friend picked up our dirty laundry and returned it clean and folded – a miracle.

*If you have more money than time, hire somebody to clean.

5. Respite and Babysitting.

Babysitting and respite can take a variety of forms.

*Babysit while your friend is home.

She can take a nap or work through the unending pile of paperwork that accompanies children with special needs.

*Babysit the other children.
*Babysit the child from “hard places.”

Your friend needs time with her other children too – and they are probably desperate for time with her.

*Offer weekend help.

Weekends are often difficult for kids from “hard places;” the helpful structure of school doesn’t transfer to long Saturdays stretching before them.

*Commit to predictable, scheduled help.

This is a tremendous relief for families. A friend picked Kalkidan up from school every Wednesday. I scheduled appointments for other children, or simply caught my breath. We counted on a calm family dinner once a week.

*Offer respite care.

Families quickly become exhausted when there is constant raging, arguing, and destructive behavior. A friend who understands children from “hard places” and gives the family a 24-hour break will make a significant impact on their well-being.

6. Don’t Forget the Siblings.

When four new children joined the family, our original kids struggled with our inability to give them attention and time. They lost us as we struggled to figure out how to live this new life.

*Give practical help.

One friend homeschooled Annarose after our new children arrived which took a huge weight off me.

*Offer support to the kids.

Isaiah and Annarose joined a youth group where they found support from other adults. It was so meaningful, we eventually made the church our new church home.

*Remember they need to have fun.

If the children have a sibling who is raging or crying for hours, the kids need relief from the stress. They may be shouldering extra responsibilities as the parents struggle to meet the needs in the family.

7. Be Dependable.

It is very important to be clear about your commitment and follow through. Let me repeat that…. It is very important to be clear about your commitment and follow through.

Don’t commit to something only to quit a few weeks later. Take on what is reasonable and sustainable. Your help is a greater lifeline than you can imagine.

8. Don’t Judge, Just Love.

*Your friends may feel shame.

They are trying to hold their family together. Remind them of God’s love for them, and yours too. They need to know they are not alone – you don’t have the answers, but you’re sticking by them while they sort it out.

*Assure them you are praying for them – and really do it.

Write their names on a post-it and put it above your kitchen sink. Don’t forget them; they may be hanging by a thread.
Your friends and their child from “hard places” are doing the best they can, and yet they suffer.

Love them through it.

Question: Do you know someone who is struggling? In what ways are you able to reach out to them and help? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Allisonm

    You hit everything I could think of, especially showing up unannounced with lattes. For a long time, grief over the loss of the life we expected and shame over not being able to make our kids okay; keep the house and the laundry clean; and show up everywhere on time with our outsides looking groomed, happy and well-rested sapped what little energy I had left. I felt like a terrible mother and lost sleep over every mistake I made. What we were going through as a family was so hard for others around us to relate to. Medicaid doesn’t pay for daily in-home mental-health staff because things are a little rough. The staff were there first to protect me from the kids and the kids from each other, while trying to teach coping and relationship skills, too. Everyone realized that moving the kids was just kicking the can down the road and that their best shot was for us to weather the long storm and hope for healing and recovery. But to make that kind of commitment to injured children is not our cultural norm. It is sacrificial on so many levels in a culture that measures things by “what’s in it for me.” So it takes a special kind of friend to sacrifice the opportunity to judge in favor of showing up to help in any way they can–even if it might involve pee in places it doesn’t belong. There was a woman in our church who barely knew us, but she kept us wrapped in prayer every day for a very long time. She will never know how much that sustained me. God bless all of those friends!

    • Lisa knocked it out of the park with this piece for sure! So glad you liked it.

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