"I'm here for you. Let me know if there is anything I can do."
As a friend, it can be devastating to see someone dear to us go through the challenges and upheaval of separation -- particularly when kids are involved. We want nothing more that to help that person out, to make life just a tiny bit easier for them.
And so we offer up the generous and honest question: "Is there anything I can do?"
While we mean that we would be willing to do anything to help, by making such a generalized offer, we're placing the burden back on the person who is needing our help. We're leaving it up to them to think of something and then to ask for help -- both of which are difficult to do while they're grieving the break-up of their family.
Don't offer up anything; do something.
If you have a friend who is separating or going through a divorce, rather than offering up that general "let me know how I can help!" just jump in and do something. Not sure what exactly to do? No worries, we've got you covered below.
3 Things You Can Do For Your Separated Friends, Today and Everyday:
1. Keep Communicating.
One of the biggest challenges of divorce is the breakdown of your extended support network. According to Psychology Today researcher Sam Marguilles, PhD, "Divorcing people often feel isolated because some friends are so uncomfortable that they distance themselves. Divorcing people need reassurance you will not abandon them."
Know this: you don't have to be perfect, you don't have to know exactly what to say. Your friend does not need you to "make it all better," nor do they need advice or opinions. What they need is someone who they can rely on, who will ask thoughtful, non-judgmental questions and listen actively to the answers, whatever they are. Take your friend's lead -- if they don't want to talk about the divorce today, then let it go. But that doesn't mean they won't want to talk about a different topic or to talk about the separation next week or next month. Feeling stumped on how to start? Try out Sheryl Sandberg's suggestion and ask the open-ended question "How are you today?"
2. Help Out.
One of the biggest challenges for all separated parents, regardless of how long they've been co-parenting for, is the fact that they don't have another person to split up parenting duties with on their custody days. Your job as a friend is not to take the place of their partner, but there are a number of small things you can do to help your friend out with the day-to-day logistics of parenting solo.
If your kids go to the same school, you can offer to pick your friend's kids on the days they have to work late. You could invite the kids to sleep over when your friend has a big work deadline or needs to travel. You could show up with boxes and newspapers when your friend is packing for a move. You could bring over meals when your friend or their kids are sick. It doesn't need to be a grand gesture, in fact, sometimes it's the simple things that mean the most.
3. Show Up.
Sometimes the very best thing you can do for your friend is to simply show up. It doesn't always have to be about talking or doing, sometimes the comfort and ease of someone else's reliable presence is more than enough. There will be a number of markers and milestones for your friend and their kids that call attention to the differences between their past and current lives. Some of those milestones are to be celebrated, some to be grieved, some to just hold your breath until they're over.
Throughout all of these moments -- the first birthday after separation; Father's Day, Mother's Day or weekend without the kids; the first parent-teacher conference attended solo, and so on -- just continue to show up. Let your friend know that regardless of all the changes in their life, your friendship is stable and your presence can be relied on.