During the past year, several close friends have reached out to me for support regarding their teen and pre-teen children. After tender conversations, their parents revealed that these young adults are struggling with depression or are in other areas of crisis. Because I have walked those roads and remember the early days of fear and confusion, I take time to listen well, offer comfort, and share my experience when appropriate. Even though my children are not currently in crisis, that doesn't mean I don't vividly remember what it was like.
Whenever my friends get in touch with me, I do two things. They are super easy to remember:
Listen then ask
First, I listen to their latest challenges and struggles. Then after ensuring their child is safe, is ask the following two questions:
- How are you?
- What are you doing to care for yourself?
I remember when worry about my oldest son consumed my life. I feared for his physical and mental well-being. The last thing on my mind was how I was managing it all. At the time, a friend of mine who was a school nurse suggested that I contact a counselor. She said I needed help to process all that I was going through. I remember thinking that it was a good idea. Then I never followed through with it. Looking back, I can see what a big mistake that was. We don't always make the best choices for ourselves when we are hyper-focused on our children.
Here's where having a good support system comes in and how you can help your friend
Listen well and without judgment. Your friend needs someone to process all the emotions they are going through. This will likely include fear, anger, and worry. It will also include irrational thoughts and ideas about how they are at fault and could have (fill in all the things they could have done better or prevented here). Just listen. Refrain from offering help or solutions, or suggestions. Your friend only needs a safe place to unload all that stuff cluttering their head and heart. They also need to know you won't judge them for their feelings.
Show up. Check-in with your friend regularly and see how they are doing, as well as how their child is doing. I remember feeling so appreciative of how people loved my children during times of crisis. At the same time, I felt so alone because I wished they would take it one step further and ask how I was coping. Your friend may appear to be doing great and keeping it all together, but that is likely just a front. You won't know until you ask, and they will love you for it.
Be Helpful. Much like someone who is grieving, your friend is overwhelmed and unsure of what they need. Unless you have walked through the specific crisis your friend is dealing with and can offer concrete advice, skip it. Concrete advice looks like: "This specific book helped me during our crisis" or "Here is a name of a professional that we called." Your friend can't handle the weight of well-intentioned advice that will add more noise to their brain's worry. Instead, show up on trash day, take the bins to the curb, and deal with the recycling. Bring over dinner, a tray of cookies, or a bag of groceries. While you are sitting and being a good listener, fold laundry or do dishes. Offer to go to the store or drop off library books or whatever else you are doing that your friend might not be able to handle.
Finally, be yourself.
Your friend is in your life because the two of you had a connection already before this crisis. Send cards. Bring flowers. Pick up the phone and make plans to go for coffee, a walk, or whatever everyday things you did before this crisis hit. Your friend wants to feel like life is normal outside of dealing with this huge stressful situation. Don't be surprised if they cry at obscure times or apologize for laughing. Hug them and remind them that you love them and are there for them.
No matter what.
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