8 Ways To Help A Family In Crisis

8 Ways To Help A Family In Crisis

We all experience crises throughout our lifetime. Both seemingly large and small crises can throw our families into chaos.

Whether the chaos is just a few days or even a few years, support from others can make a massive difference.

Support during a crisis can mean that instead of being unable to cope, one finds some positives and love amidst the chaos.

We might not be able to change someone’s situation, but we can help them to cope.

Over the years, I’ve experienced my fair share of crises, just as everyone does. In the past year, we’ve experienced pregnancy losses, premature birth, and unexpected medical complications. Certainly, most years aren’t as eventful, and sometimes even just a stomach bug running rampant through the home can feel like a crisis!

Regardless of what the actual crisis is, people can benefit from truly helpful support.

Why “Let Me Know If You Need Anything” Isn’t Helpful

Most of us genuinely want to help our friends. We all have a knee jerk reaction to say: “Let me know if you need anything.” We all very likely mean it. I know I’ve said it many times with a genuine desire to help.

However, it really isn’t helpful. While the thought means a good bit, during a crisis it doesn’t provide help. Why?

Because no matter how willing you are to help, people don’t like to ask for help. People don’t know what your ‘anything’ is. Are you available for childcare? Can you help with a meal? Can you bring groceries or fold laundry?

When someone is in the midst of chaos, organising is overwhelming. The general ‘anything’ can also be awkward or stressful for both you and the person you offered to help. They aren’t sure what you’re able to help with.

So, for example, they ask for childcare help. But you’re overwhelmed at home and if you say yes you’re going to be even more overwhelmed. If you say no, you’ll possibly leave both of you feeling bad about the situation.

8 Ways To Help A Family In Crisis

If just offering anything isn’t helpful, then what is? A family experiencing a crisis may need a lot of different support. It’s unlikely you can be that full support, but whatever support you can offer, can really help to lighten their burden.

Here are 8 ways you can really help a family in crisis.

#1: Offer Empathy And Compassion

First and foremost, before you can really find ways to help them practically, experiencing empathy can help you find ways to best support them. Empathy is to put yourself in their shoes, and compassion is essentially the actions you do because of feeling empathy.

Now, even if you’re unable to offer practical support (e.g. meals, childcare) showing empathy can be an invaluable form of emotional support. We all tend to easily fall into offering sympathy, but during a crisis, it can feel like pity to those suffering. Pity is rarely, if ever, helpful.

If you’d like to learn more about the difference between sympathy and empathy, watch this excellent explanation by Dr. Brené Brown.

#2: Ask “When Can I Bring You Food?”

We all need to eat. Even on our best days, feeding a family can be taxing. During a crisis, finding the energy to feed a family can feel impossible.

Rather than saying: “let me know if you need anything,” offer a very specific type of help. Asking when can you bring food, or “I have a meal for you, would Friday be helpful?” lets them know exactly how you’re willing to help.

While home cooked meals can be a nice treat, it’s still just as helpful to receive a gift card for take-out or a store bought meal. Sometimes, not having to play the what’s for dinner? game can lighten a busy families burden. Even the smallest crisis can be helped with the kind gesture of a meal. I recall a tiring week of sick toddlers, and one night a dear friend had a pizza delivered and it truly meant so much.

Starting a meal train can also be helpful, this allows many people to band together to support a family without the family having to participate in organising. When someone is facing a longer crisis, it isn’t uncommon for offers to help to fizzle out over time. A meal train is an easy way for others to know someone is still in need of support.

#3: Offer To Help With Children

If parents are balancing someone in the hospital, if a parent is ill, a death has occurred, etc. having help with childcare can be a huge blessing.

Offering traditional childcare so parents can handle tasks, or simply taking a child out to play, can help alleviate some stress for a family in crisis. Knowing your children are in good hands and having fun can mean the world to a stressed parent.

It’s also helpful to offer childcare along with explaining your availability. Even if they don’t end up needing your support in this area, knowing someone’s available just in case can alleviate worries.

#4: Help With Basic Chores

The last thing a grieving, weary, stretched-too-thin parent has energy for is the mundane everyday tasks. Unfortunately, dishes, laundry and dirty floors don’t care that your baby is in the hospital or that you just suffered a loss.

Offering any help, or even a gift certificate for a cleaning service, can lighten the load of a family in crisis.

#5: Visit With No Expectations

Dealing with a crisis can be lonely. Sure, it could be worse and others might have experienced worse situations, but during a crisis people often feel no one understands.

While you may not be able to fully understand your friend’s situation, company means a lot. It shows you care, it shows they aren’t alone.

Don’t expect your friend to host. Don’t expect a full explanation or details of the crisis. Don’t visit for baby snuggles.

Be sure to let your friend know you have no expectations when you ask to visit. A simple “May I bring you coffee?” Or an offer to pop by a lonely hospital room with a treat, can mean a lot.

#6: Check In And Be Okay With No Reply

Letting someone know you’re thinking of them and you’re available if they want to talk is a big help. Doing so in a way that doesn’t require an answer, however, ensures you’re not adding stress.

No one wants to feel as though they have to share information or respond to every single message received. But it can mean a lot to get a message just letting them know you are thinking of them.

#7: Bring Or Send A Treat

When we’re in the middle of a crisis, self-care is the last thing on our mind, despite a crisis being the time we need it most. A new book, chocolate, coffee, even things as simple as nice toiletries (especially travel size if there’s a hospital stay involved) can be helpful.

Not only are parents busy, it isn’t uncommon for financial stress to be a part of a crisis. This means they’re less likely to grab that coffee or new book, even if both would serve as much needed self-care.

When my daughter was admitted for surgery, we found a gift card had been left for us at the hospital coffee stand. Sure, we didn’t need coffee, but the gesture truly did help in coping with a stressful situation.

#8: Take An Errand, Be A Taxi, Help With The Big Little Things

Big little things are the everyday tasks that during a crisis can be overwhelming. Driving back and forth to the hospital, juggling appointments or making funeral arrangements take priority over the smaller tasks like preschool drop off, pick up stamps, or grabbing the dry cleaning.

Offering to run an errand, drive to an appointment, fill the gas tank, assist with rides for children, etc. are little things that can make a massive difference for a family in need.

Every situation is unique and every family’s needs vary. However, support during crisis can truly mean being able to cope with a seemingly impossible situation. It’s okay to ask questions if you don’t know how best to help a family. Your support isn’t about being perfect or providing for a family’s every need.

These 8 things are simply ideas for how to help a family during a crisis. Whether you can only offer empathy, or you’re able to organise your social circle to cover every area for your friend, your support will be appreciated.

For more ideas on how to support a family in crisis, be sure to read:

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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