Eight Ways to Help a Struggling Family

dad and kids

Last week I got an email from a woman whose friend adopted a child and the family is struggling. Her heartfelt note asked what she could do to help. She wrote, “The mom looks sad and frustrated all of the time.”

She closed her email with, “What can I do to help? What can our church family do to help?”

Let me offer a few thoughts.

1. Ask Her What She Needs

*Go to her home.

Arrive with two lattes in hand, give her a hug, and listen. She may not know what she needs, but ask her, and if she isn’t sure, make some suggestions.

She is likely isolated and will be thankful for a few moments with an adult. I remember standing on my porch and bursting into tears. The compassion on my friend’s face still comes to mind. Parenting a very difficult child is a lonely business.

*Her needs may surprise you.

Maybe she hasn’t had a haircut (or gone to the dentist, attended church, had an uninterrupted conversation with her husband, taken a nap) because she has nobody to care for her child from “hard places.”

2. Feed Them

Everybody needs to eat and that doesn’t change, even in the midst of crisis. There are many ways to help, and if you can get other folks to join you, it will alleviate a lot of stress.

*Bring dinner once a week.

*Organize a cooking day and fill her freezer.

*Go grocery shopping once a week.

Pick up her list (with her debit card) and take one of her children along to be your helper – he’ll feel special and your friend will have a little break at the same time.

*Give restaurant gift cards.

Cards for kid-friendly local restaurants, especially places that deliver, are perfect. These are also easy to gather from other friends who want to help.

3. Drive

When life gets very hard, it’s difficult to leave the house. Things are left undone, and everyone grows frayed around the edges.

*Do weekly errands.

When our life was being lived moment-by-moment, many things fell through the cracks. Wardrobes grew smaller simply because I couldn’t get to the store to replace jeans with holes in the knees. Library books were overdue, prescriptions weren’t pick up – you get the picture.

Years later, this brings tears to my eyes; I felt overwhelmed and inadequate.

*Take her children to an activity on a regular basis.

In our isolation, the other children grew sad, stressed, and lonely. We never knew what kind of chaos an evening might hold, and we were exhausted; our default was to simply say “no” to everything.

Sports and after-school activities were nearly impossible. If you’re signing your child up for basketball, youth group, or Boy Scouts, ask if her child would like to go too, and commit to all driving.

4. Clean

*Simply show up.

She may be embarrassed by the state of her home. If she is spending hours with a high-need child, cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets, and mopping will slip down the list.

One friend often stopped by, made tea, and as we talked, she swept my kitchen floor and washed the dishes alongside me, almost without me noticing.

* Fold laundry.

Call her in the morning to say you are stopping by that afternoon to fold laundry. She’ll keep the machines running if she knows you’re coming. Be sure to help her put it away.  Once a friend picked up our dirty laundry and returned it clean and folded – a miracle.

*If you have more money than time, hire somebody to clean.

5. Respite and Babysitting

Babysitting and respite can take a variety of forms.

*Babysit while your friend is home.

She can take a nap or work through the unending pile of paperwork that accompanies children with special needs.

*Babysit the other children.

*Babysit the child from “hard places.”

Your friend needs time with her other children too – and they are probably desperate for time with her.

*Offer weekend help.

Weekends are often difficult for kids from “hard places;” the helpful structure of school doesn’t transfer to long Saturdays stretching before them.

*Commit to predictable, scheduled help.

This is a tremendous relief for families. A friend picked Kalkidan up from school every Wednesday. I scheduled appointments for other children, or simply caught my breath. We counted on a calm family dinner once a week.

*Offer respite care.

Families quickly become exhausted when there is constant raging, arguing, and destructive behavior. A friend who understands children from “hard places” and gives the family a 24-hour break will make a significant impact on their well-being.

6. Don’t Forget the Siblings

When four new children joined the family, our original kids struggled with our inability to give them attention and time.  They lost us as we struggled to figure out how to live this new life.

*Give practical help.

One friend homeschooled Annarose after our new children arrived which took a huge weight off me.

*Offer support to the kids.

Isaiah and Annarose joined a youth group where they found support from other adults.  It was so meaningful, we eventually made the church our new church home.

*Remember they need to have fun.

If the children have a sibling who is raging or crying for hours, the kids need relief from the stress. They may be shouldering extra responsibilities as the parents struggle to meet the needs in the family.

7. Be Dependable 

It is very important to be clear about your commitment and follow through.

Let me repeat that.

It is very important to be clear about your commitment and follow through.

Do not commit to something only to quit a few weeks later. Take on only what is reasonable and manageable for you to sustain. Your help will likely be a greater lifeline than you can imagine.

Asking for help and trying to create a schedule of support was a huge challenge for me. Friends who canceled on commitments had no idea that it resulted in hours of struggle for our entire family.

8. Don’t Judge, Just Love

*Trust me, your friends who are struggling likely already feel shame.

They are trying to hold their family together, but this is so much harder than you can imagine. They need to be reminded of how much they are loved by God and by you. They need to know that they are not alone – you don’t have the answers, but you’re sticking by them while they sort it out.

*Assure them that you are praying for them – and really do it.

Write their names on a post-it and put it on your mirror or above your kitchen sink. Don’t forget them because they may be hanging by a thread.

*Remember that your friends and their child from “hard places” are doing the best they can, and yet they suffer.

Love them through it.

Thank you for visiting One Thankful Mom. With nearly 2,000 posts, my site is packed with information on family, adoption, foster care, and faith.

I invite you to read my adoption story and get to know me a little better.

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with hope and gratitude,


signature L and Beza