9 Ways to Be a Good Friend to Moms With Kids in the Hospital
I’ve spent some miserable days at a children’s hospital with my daughter, but thanks to amazing people, I also have warm memories from those days. Here’s a guide to help you become a friend to a mom who’s going to be spending nights tossing and turning on an uncomfortable sofa/bed-thing in a chilly hospital room.
1. Don’t assume someone else is going to do it. The saddest memory I carry is my husband stepson and me watching my daughter almost die in the PICU with no one else there. Those were the worst days of our lives, yet everyone assumed someone else was taking care of us. My family does not live in this state and it took a few days to get flights and other things in order.
As soon as word got out we were alone, people surrounded us with non-stop support and love. Every person who came said, “I’m sorry I thought so-and-so would be here.” Don’t assume someone’s church, synagogue or in-laws are taking care of them. Take action because you may be the only one. The first person who came to see my daughter at the hospital was not anyone related to us; it was her bus driver.
2. Tell them it’s OK to ask for what they need. I used to say you don’t have to bring anything, but than I realized they’ll bring something anyway. During one of our stays at the hospital, my friend, Heather, called me and asked me what I wanted. I said, “Nothing, thank you.” After I got off the phone, I thought I might as well tell her what I wanted. I wanted miso soup, the cheap powder type that you mix with a cup of hot water, the perfect PICU pick-me-up. She brought me miso soup. It’s been years since I’ve seen Heather, but to this day, every time I eat a bowl of Miso soup, I say, “Thank you, Heather, for the miso soup.”
3. Take care of the “other kid.” When moms are in the hospital with a sick child, they need to figure out what to do with their kids who aren’t in the hospital. Don’t wait for moms to ask if you can help take care of their other children. I can concentrate on the child who is hospitalized when I know my other child is having a good time with friends. You can also help out by dropping off a few things to keep the other child busy.
4. Feed them. Our hospital is Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The food is surprisingly good, and more importantly, they serve Starbucks in the lobby. However, it’s so nice to get food from the outside. Consider bringing healthy snacks or smaller meals. When I was on bed rest during pregnancy and several times while my daughter was hospitalized, my mother cooked my favorite Persian dishes. We would all sit down and eat as a family in the hospital. I remember overhearing two nurses talking and one saying our family is awesome. It made me feel so good to know that even though my child has so much going against her, what people see is that she has a family who loves her.
5. Be yourself and tell them a good story. During one of our stays, my sweet friend, Nilu, came with dinner from one of her favorite trendy restaurants. We sat on the couch/bed-thing, ate and talked about the ending of her previous relationship and her super sexy boots. We cried and laughed together. After she left, I cried once more thinking of the unfairness of someone as good as her ever being treated badly and the unfairness of me having to wear my ugly (yet comfortable) CrossFit shoes instead of those super sexy boots. I was startled when one of my daughter’s monitors started beeping (oh, that awful beeping), but felt peace come over me. You see, my friend’s heartache and sexy boots gave me a break from the reality of being in the hospital. Yes, I want you to care about me, but please allow me to care for you too.
6. Unless you are a medical doctor, refrain from giving medical advice or questioning the parent’s judgment. I have friends who are doctors and I rely on them to educate me. I have some other friends who are not doctors but come to the hospital and say things like, “Did you really need to take her to the ER? It’s just a growth spurt, right? Maybe it’s because she is allergic to gluten.” My response is, “Thank you, I will look into that.” What I’m thinking: Is this chick for real? My daughter is 9 years old; she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and mitochondrial disease at age 2. That means I’ve been Googling this for seven years. So please, non-doctor friend, stop with the medical advice and judgment.
7. Once they are home, give them space. Visitors in the hospital are great. Being in a hospital with your child can get boring and sharing the TV with your kid means no reruns of “Sex and the City.” Visitors break up the day and make you feel like a part of the world. When you come home from the hospital, you need time and space to enjoy your bed, your pantry and your shower, and to shave your legs. Sometimes our kids come home with new medical devices and we need time to adjust to our new normal. Meals are great, but I often dread having to get out of my pajamas or entertain a friend who’s dropping off a meal. I’m thankful, really thankful, but please let me figure out the date before a long visit.
8. When it comes to helping, think outside the box. Twelve years ago, my husband and I were married at a small church in Pennsylvania. Once, after an emergency surgery, I was too weak to sit up and eat and one of the older church members happened to be visiting someone else. She came in the room and spoon-fed me. Another member came to my house after my emergency C-section and cleaned and organized my entire kitchen. No one waited for someone else to send them directions on how to serve others; they just did it.
9. Know that it does take a more effort to keep a friend who’s a “hospital mom.” I’ve missed out on being friends with some pretty cool people because they couldn’t stay in a relationship with someone who might not call them back for hours or days (OK, sometimes months). It doesn’t surprise me that the women who’ve stayed in my life are the strong ones who want to raise others up.
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