I am no stranger to surviving difficult times while being a mom. My children were born five and a half years ago. Since then, I have had five major surgeries, the removal of three organs, a cancer diagnosis, at least 2 hospital stays a year, and multiple chronic health conditions. Because of my experiences, I started a non-profit, Mommies In Need, that provides free childcare and support to parents going through a health crisis. That organization provides so much joy in my life, but it also means that I have seen 27 other women go through their own difficult days. Unfortunately, for several of these moms, it also meant walking with them through their final days on this earth.
The past few months of my life have been particularly challenging and full of immense grief. My 28 year-old brother passed away suddenly and tragically just before Thanksgiving. A month before that I lost a good friend (and MIN Mommy) after a 7-year cancer battle. And this past weekend I visited another friend who is on hospice and doesn’t have much time left.
This is not meant to depress you – I consider myself lucky! My support system is incredible. I have parents who will drop anything to help me, a husband who is unfailing in his care for me, kids who are hilarious and extremely hug-gable, and a collection of friends and family members who have seen me through every step of my journey.
But, my complicated life has made me something of an expert not only in dealing with my difficult days, but also in figuring out the best ways to support other Moms who are facing their own challenges.
The list below works for any type of difficult time. Maybe it is a cancer diagnosis, or maybe it is someone who is struggling with the transition from one to two children. Maybe your friend is dealing with the loss of a loved one, or maybe they are struggling with postpartum depression. Whatever the crisis, you can use this list as a guide of practical ways you can help support mom and see her through.
- Let Them Vent – When life is hard, there are a million people around that will offer platitudes and try to make the suffering person see the silver lining of their situation. But what most people who are in the middle of a crisis really need is a safe person to listen to them complain about how terrible they feel without trying to fix it. Husbands are often not good at this, so it’s where Mom friends can really help. Yes, our first instinct is to shy away from the yucky feelings, but those are the most important to process. My opinion is that the best thing you can say to someone who is venting their feelings to you is, “That sucks. I wish you didn’t have to go through this, but I am here to walk it with you.”
- Offer Specific Help – The most common thing people say to a friend who is in a difficult situation is “Let me know what I can do to help.” The sentiment is kind, but the truth is that often in the middle of a crisis, the person just doesn’t have the energy to think of ways to let you help. I have found that very specific offers are best. Text your friend “Going to Target today, can I pick up some basics for you?” Or “Headed to Zoe’s Kitchen to get take-out for dinner, what can I bring you guys?” And don’t be irritated if they don’t respond. Keep offering and when they are ready they will take you up on it.
- Give Them a Rest – As moms, we constantly put our own mental and physical health far behind our care for our kids. But as they say on an airplane, “Put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting other passengers.” That is because if you pass out due to lack of oxygen, you aren’t much use to anyone else! Help your friend find her room to breathe. Maybe she needs some time for a long walk to process or just a long nap. Again, be specific in your offer. A text of “Going to the zoo tomorrow morning, can I swing by and get your littles to give you a break?” is much more likely to be of help then the more general, “Let me know if I can take the kids for you sometime.” Again the sentiment is great, but responding to the second takes a lot of mental energy and requires the mom friend to actually reach out and ask for help. I don’t know about you but I am often reluctant to ask for assistance, but extremely grateful when someone swoops in and offers it in a tangible way.
- Give Them a Useful Gift and/or a Meaningful Note – My favorite? An Uber Eats Gift Card. They can order from just about anywhere whenever they feel like they just can’t cook. Meal trains are great, but sometimes it is hard to anticipate when you are going to need that help. Some other useful gift ideas include cozy slippers, lip balm, hand cream, magazines, adult coloring books with colored pencils, or some frozen meals they can just heat up anytime. A few kind words on a card can also make a huge difference. Text or facebook notes of support are great, but follow that up with an actual card in the mail or dropped off in person. I have a box where I keep all of these that I have been given, and I turn to it when I need to be reminded of the love that surrounds me.
- Schedule Some Girl Time – This one is key. When a friend is dealing with a difficult point in her life, one of the greatest gifts you can give her is something to look forward to. Maybe it is inviting her to a Girls Night Out to have a drink or go see a movie. Or you can come over during nap time and bring coffee and a treat to share. When moms are in the middle of a crisis, a bit of relief from having to think about their situation all the time is extremely welcome. Make sure to pick something that fits your friend and her situation. In the middle of a serious illness is probably not the best time to invite your introverted friend out dancing. But maybe she would be up to getting a mani/pedi and brunch. Getting time away with friends is always good for the soul, and when we are hurting, making some fun new memories is a great way forward.
Do you have anything to add to the list? Please comment with your ideas for helping friends and providing support in a time of crisis! What was most helpful to you when you went through a tough time?