Dear Miriam,

A friend of mine recently separated from her husband. I won’t go into the details for obvious reasons, but it was a long road for her to get to this point. We are all so relieved that she finally was able to make the break from him.

However, the result is that she is now effectively a single parent, working part-time and also trying to manage the children. With kids the same age myself, I know that’s basically a full-time job in itself. All this while dealing with the legal side of separation etc. It’s not easy.

I would love to do something to help make her life a bit easier. I have asked her what I can do to help, but she says not to worry, that she will be fine. But I feel like I should be doing something. What would you advise?

Concerned friend

Miriam responds

Dear Concerned friend,

Thanks for your email. Your friend is lucky to have such a considerate person in her life at this challenging time.

I don’t think that many of us are very good at asking for help, even in our times of need. Perhaps we are so overwhelmed with getting through the day to day tasks, that we can’t even stop and think about what we need, or what might make our lives a little bit easier. Or we simply don’t want to feel like a “burden”. I know myself, having received a few, “Let me know if there is anything that I can do” texts in my time, that I usually thank the sender and say that I will be in touch if I think of anything. I seldom follow up; even if everything is falling apart around me!

What has worked better is when people have pre-empted what my needs might be, in very practical ways. So instead of texting to see if there was anything I needed, they turned up at the door with a few homemade dinners for the freezer, or came to cut the grass. Seemingly small acts that don’t cost the earth, but that make a huge difference in your day to day life when you are trying to hold it all together. Of course, there is a fine balance as well, but I think if you can put yourself in your friend’s shoes, you will be able to see what might be helpful to her.

To be honest, I don’t think you can ever go too far wrong with a few dinners for the freezer. You could perhaps send her a message along the lines of, “I’m batch-cooking a few chicken curries/shepherd’s pies etc here and I have more than enough for my freezer; can I drop a few to your door later on?” Just keep it easy and breezy.

If you have children the same age, then you have a good insight into what support she might need in that regard too. Maybe it’s offering to pick her kids up with your gang a day a week (if that is something that you can manage) or inviting them over to your house to play or to bring them along to the local park so that your friend gets some time to herself to sort out whatever she needs. Again, just keep it simple.

Longer-term, is there a more structured way to support your friend? Are there other friends around who could also help? In that case, you could nearly “time-table” help with the kids, dinners, odd-jobs etc, but I think if you were to go in that direction, you would definitely need to chat to your friend to see if she is comfortable to accept that level of help.

It’s important that she knows that you want to support her because you admire her for the brave step that she has taken; not out of a place of pity or because you feel that she is not capable. And that you are always there for her to talk, to rant, to cry, to laugh; whatever she needs.

I hope that this is helpful and wish you and your friend the best of luck as she moves forward. CL

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