5 Tips to Support a Friend Who Has Become a Carer

Five tips that might help you be a better friend to someone who has found themselves thrust into the role of a carer. 

Like many families who have been through a diagnosis of some sort, we’ve lost friends in the years since our daughter was diagnosed with Autism. 

While we’ve gained some incredible new friends along the way, the strain a diagnosis can put on relationships is a big one; caring for a child with a disability can be all consuming and maintaining even the best of friendships can be difficult. 

Between long days spent driving to and from specialist appointments, learning a whole new language of acronyms, meeting with teachers and then still squeezing in time for our family; finding the time to catch up with friends (let alone ourselves) can often fall to the bottom of the priority list.

I guess it’s not surprising; parenting forms and strengthens bonds, however friendships are based on common ground. What happens when that ground shifts considerably and you no longer have as much in common? 

Recognising why things might have gone astray doesn’t stop me wondering that maybe if we’d had a better understanding of each other, or some tips to help guide us through, we might have recovered some of that shared space, and retained the friendship.
 
So with that in mind, here are my five insights that might help you be a better friend to someone who has found themselves thrust into the role of a carer for their child. 

1. Be patient

The world that your friend is entering is new, quite possibly scary and completely unknown to them. They are going to need time to adjust, to process and find their bearings in a changed landscape. 

For some, that might mean talking through every single element a million times over, for others it might be shutting down the world around them. Either way, don’t give up. Your friend is still there, and they’re worth waiting for.

2. It’s not about you

The thing is, when you’re so worried about your child, you can be short, distracted or just plain unavailable to the people around you; honestly, there are times when I wonder how I have any friends at all. 

The ones who have stuck around seem to understand that it’s nothing personal, it’s simply about prioritising whatever emotional and physical energy I have left to make it through the day. 

3. Escape

For some people, and I’m often one of them, catching up with friends or heading into the office is a welcome escape. It’s a time to focus on something other than appointments, specialists, symptoms and doctors.

Don’t feel like you have to always talk about the situation at home. It’s not insensitive to grab me a coffee and debrief the latest episode of reality TV. Unless you hate reality TV, in which case, why are we friends? 
two friends sharing coffee with ipad

4. Don’t compare. Ever. 

Whether it’s a subtle humble brag about NAPLAN results, or blatant rivalry over reading levels, we’ve all had to endure comparisons as parents. It’s never fun and someone always ends up feeling like rubbish, no matter how good the intentions. 

Add a developmental delay or a disability to the mix and you’re heading for trouble. They say comparison is the thief of joy; don’t let it steal your friendships. 

5. Practical magic

Don’t offer to help, just help. Offers will rarely be taken up, it’s hard when you’re overwhelmed to reach out and ask for help.

Some of the most valuable things friends have done have been out of the blue; dinners delivered, showers cleaned, washing folded, babysitting arranged and gins poured.

Small things yet the practical act of just doing it without hesitation meant the world.
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