“Let me know if I can ever help!” a friend said as we walked away from each other last Sunday. Her desire to help is genuine. She knows my eleven-year-old son James has level three autism, and I’m his primary caregiver.
Over the next decade, I’ll also become the primary caregiver for my sister who has Down syndrome and for my parents if they need it. In your group of friends, you probably have someone who is a caregiver for a child, sibling, parent, or even spouse. Some like me are long-term caregivers. Others are caregivers for a season as they help a parent or spouse recover from surgery or illness.
If you want to show your caregiving friend that you really care, I’ll share with you the secret I’ve learned to making it happen—the more specific you are the more helpful you are.
Caretakers can feel overwhelmed and are likely suffering from decision fatigue. I’ve read that the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. Caregivers are making even more. They have to make decisions for themselves and the person they care for. For example, not only do I have to decide what I will wear that day, I have to decide what my son will wear as well. And he won’t grow out of that stage like typical kids do. Even at twelve I’m making this decision for him (and then helping him get dressed).
By the time you text with, “Let me know how I can help!” your caregiving friend may not be able to come up with an answer. The energy it takes to make a decision about what she needs is just another thing on her to do list. So, let’s make it as easy as possible on her by offering specific ways we’re able to help. For example,
“I’m making tacos this week, and I know how much you like them. Can I bring some over on Tuesday?”
“I’m taking my kids to the park this afternoon. Can we swing by and pick up your kids so they can play with us?”
“I’m running to the grocery store this afternoon. What can I pick up for you?”
“My husband is mowing our yard on Saturday. Need him to come by and mow your yard too? It’s no trouble.”
“Here are a few links to articles on what we talked about the other day. The one I listed first looks especially interesting.”
See the difference? The big decision is already made. Part of the work has already been done. The person you’re offering to help only needs to make a small decision. Tacos on Tuesday sound great. The yard really does need mowed. All she has to say is yes. (And if the answer is no, you can try again in a few days with another idea.)
Plus, the better you know a person, the more specific your help can be. One friend may love a magazine to read because she doesn’t have time to read a book, but another friend would love for you to take her kids along to see a movie so she has time to read that book she’s had on her bedside table for weeks.
We all have limitations on our time and energy. In fact, these limitations are good because they remind us how much we need God. Psalm 16:6 says “The lines have fallen in pleasant places” (ESV), and those lines help us all live within our purpose and calling. My purpose includes being a caregiver—a special-needs mom and sibling—but I remember God has me in a “pleasant place” even on my most stressful days when friends take time to encourage and support me.
It’s never wrong to offer to help your caregiving friend, but if you can help her even more by offering something specific, I know she would appreciate you taking one more decision off her plate!
Sandra Peoples is a special-needs mom and sibling. She and her family live outside of Houston, TX where she serves her church as director of the special-needs ministry. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family. You can connect with her at sandrapeoples.com