How to be a Friend Indeed to a Friend in Need
Friendship is easy when friends are on the same schedule, have the same level of flexibility, or have an agreement that one friend takes more responsibility for the friendship than the other.
We all develop rhythms of closeness, levels of intimacy, and some sense of who does what in our relationships. When those rhythms and expectations get disrupted, the commitment to the friendship gets challenged in a big way.
Here’s a not-uncommon scenario:
Two moms have been friends forever. The husbands like each other well enough that their friendship has also been growing. The families watch each others’ kids, carpool, and get together pretty regularly for barbecues, pizza nights, or just to hang out at the local swimming hole or at the mall. The moms turn to each other for support and help when a kid gets the flu or the car breaks down. The dads man the grill at the kids’ Little League games. The two families have an easygoing and important connection.
Then one of the kids is diagnosed with a serious illness or gets into serious trouble. During the first few months, their friends usually pick up the slack. But when the problem becomes chronic, the parents of the kid in distress are too preoccupied with their child to be available for fun, for long talks, or to take a turn with the carpool. Suddenly the terms of the friendship have to change.
Often friends start to drift away. They don’t mean to contribute to the stress. They’re not bad people. It’s just that life was already full. They don’t know how to fold care and support for another family into their routines. Fearing they will do or say the wrong thing, they pull back. Nothing in their experience tells them how to be helpful. They don’t know how to grieve the loss of the kind of friendship they had and yet create another, perhaps equally rewarding, one.
5 Tips for Helping a Friend in Need
There really are things friends can do when a friend is in chronic need. The rhythm of the relationship does need to change but the relationship itself doesn’t need to get lost.
Here are some guidelines to help you be the friend you’d like to be if a friend gets caught up in a long-term crisis:
1. Remember that people need to tell their stories.
One way that people metabolize grief is by talking about it. Listen with compassion and without judgment. Don’t offer advice unless asked. Don’t offer “pep talks.” Acknowledging their reality communicates respect for what they are going through. Do be clear about how often and when you can manage time to talk. People don’t want to feel like they are burdening their friends or imposing too much, so it helps to have some parameters. If you’re too busy when called, say so. But call back. Parents need to know there are at least a few people they can call when they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed as well as when there is good news.