When discussing special needs etiquette -- what should or should not be said or done when a person has a child with a chronic illness or special need -- there are so many comments or actions that come up, it can be hard to know where to start. So let's start at the beginning, with a comment parents frequently hear when their child is initially symptomatic or diagnosed.
After people allow parents to tell the story, inevitably the conversation ends with the well-meaning listener saying, "Call me if you need anything.". While this is an incredibly comforting comment, knowing others care, let me give those of you who say this a news flash -- Nobody is going to call you! Even if they wish they could, parents in crisis with their child usually do not have time or presence of mind to remember your offer of help. Even if a family truly needs the assistance of others, pride may get in the way. It can be a very humbling experience trying to finally track down help when you are caring for a child who requires so much attention.
So, how do we, the parents, resolve this breach of etiquette with you, the kind person offering help? Here are some ideas.
For the parent:
- Use tools like CaringBridge to update people on your child's status and what your needs are.
- Have 1 friend or family member who runs interference for you, coordinating care for your typical children, and getting someone in to help you with housecleaning, gardening or laundry.
- When things are relatively calm, write down the names of those people who told you, "Call me if you need anything." Call those individuals back and ask, "Were you serious when you said I should call you if I need anything?". If their answer is "Yes," then proceed to tell them what your need is, checking to see if they might be able or willing to help you.
- Don't expect a person to call you if they need anything. YOU call that parent, offering ways you might like to help. You can be fairly certain that struggling families all need meals, gas cards, gift cards for carry-out food, help with laundry, help with housecleaning.
- Instead of "Call me if you need anything," perhaps you could say to a parent, "I'm serious. What can I do to help?". If that parent is not ready to answer you, offer to call them in another 24-48 hours to follow-up on how you can help with their extra needs.
- Offer to coordinate meals or house chores for the family using tools like Take Them a Meal. This takes a great deal of stress out of the effort to help a family in need because everything is coordinated online.
- Consider being in the regular rotation for child care, house-sitting or pet-sitting if the parents need to be at the hospital with their special needs child.
That is, after all, the goal between people who care about one another.
PRAY: Lord, help us to see one another's hearts when conversation is uncomfortable. Be gentle with us when dealing with our sinful pride. Soften us to being willing to ask for help when it is needed. And help us to take the initiative to reach out to another person when they are hurting. Jesus, make us love like you do.