Families with a child affected by a mental/neurological disorder often live a chaotic and stress filled existence. Often, the struggle is invisible to the public. Unknown to even neighbors, a series of chronic storms erupt inside the home. Furthermore, stigmas make seeking support challenging. Parents struggle to give time to all of their children as well as their marriage Siblings may resent the extra attention to the affected child. It is all too easy for fracture to take place and the results to each member can have short and long term consequences.
You want to help but how do you do it? Here is a list of suggestions that can get you started.
Food: It connects us. But good news-you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to share it. How about ordering a pizza? One of the best dinners shared with us was ham and cheese sliders that we could warm up and grab quickly on our way to the hospital. Truthfully, anything that offers a quick bit of nutrition and satisfies, feeds the stomach and the soul. Always make sure you are aware of any food restrictions (especially true if the child has a sensory issue.)
Gift cards. Medical bills quickly consume a budget. Sure, there are payment plans but when you have at least a few going, there is not much left for any extras. In addition, schedules can become packed with doctors appointments and unexpected health related crises. Furthermore, siblings often feel left behind as time and money are consumed quickly. Special family outings often disappear. Gift cards for a movie theater, McDonalds, and other “extras” are an appreciated treat. Gas cards are also beneficial.
Offer to take siblings for a few hours. Respite is necessary for all family members. Routines often become interrupted, noise levels escalate, conflict can be frequent. These factors contribute to a stressful environments. Can you offer your home as a quiet place of refuge? Renting a movie, supplying snacks, sharing skills, or even letting kids play on their electronic devices or read in a peaceful place is a gift. If you are more adventurous, try a park, ice skating or the beach.
Care for the affected child: This suggestion requires a familiarity with the child and their needs. Sometimes a new environment can be helpful. Other times, it may create further anxiety. If you can provide this option, it sends an affirming message to the child that they are capable of being loved on by those outside their family. To the parents, it sends an empathetic message.
Put together a gift basket: Parents naturally tend to invest their time, energy, and resources toward the health of their child. As a result, they are left “empty.” This affects their own emotional and physical well-being. It also leads to strained marriages. How about a gift basket filled with bubble bath, hand lotion, special treats, rental movie gift card, coffee shop gift card, teas, bottle of wine? Put on your creative hat and see what happens!
Share resources. Let’s face it, receiving money from others can be awkward. Yet, it may be the very thing that would help alleviate stress. Could you ask to pay a bill? Could you pay for a sitter? There are creative ways to share financially while not taking away dignity or creating an uncomfortable situation.
When a child fights a physical illness, it often leads to a rally of support. The visible symptoms communicate the urgency of support to others. Unfortunately, mental illness, addiction, neurological disorders do not always present in a way that draws attention. The family struggles silently. When we are aware of others’ needs, we become better advocates and neighbors. And we are transformed in the process.
Last year, something exciting happened around here. After living here for nineteen years, we bought a new back door! It is a beautiful white door with a small window. No scratches or marks of age. New.
As a child, I could have never expected a door to be a source of fulfillment. But once you reach adulthood, you set your eyes on different “toys.” A new dishwasher? Yippee!
Our home is small and quaint. Originally we bought it as a “starter” home but due to a lot of factors since then, we are still here. And truthfully, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is the place our stories have unfolded. We have hosted Bible Studies, birthday parties, dinner parties, brought new babies home. These walls have witnessed despair, sorrow, hope, celebration. God has weaved our lives together here.
The distance between the back door and the front door is fairly short. Yet, as you know, there exists a cultural nuance about house entrances. Typically, the front door is used formally and the back door for more intimate relationships. Things like:
The neighbor coming over to ask to borrow a cup of sugar (yes, we are fortunate to have those interactions in 2016!)
My kids’ friends looking for a playmate
The dogs, coming in refreshed and a bit calmer after some time in the backyard.
The Summer parade of kids going back and forth between the inside for refreshment and the outside for watersports (hopefully not dripping). The glorious breeze and the waft of grass coming in with them.
Because our home is small, there is not a lot of space for storage. Coats and shoes find their place on hooks and a shoe bench immediately after entering the back door. And it opens right into my kitchen. Let’s just say there is always something “cooking” in there.
I’d like to say that the “mudroom” was always organized but it wasn’t.
Once I even lost a bike helmet there in plain sight !
In the summer, flip flops, packages of sparklers left over from fourth of July and swimming goggles are stored (loosely!) in this space.
In the winter, it becomes cluttered with boots. Not just our boots. The boots of those who grace us with their presence. Whose interactions are woven into our life stories. Which brings me to what I have learned from my back door.
You see, I used to be embarrassed for guests to use it. Even if I tried to cue visitors to use the front entrance, which is so much more elegant and clean, people still chose to use the back door.
Sometimes, my father-in-law would pop over on a Saturday morning to have coffee. There would be a knock on the back door. Yikes! Pancake batter adorned my counters. Dirty breakfast dishes stacked in the sink waiting to be bathed in the dishwasher. I tried to be gracious but inside I was swallowing my pride. He was seeking relationship with his son. I was focused on logistical details.
And then there was the next door neighbor girl, seeking a place of refuge from the insecurity in her own home. There would be a knock on the back door. I saw the door opening to the array of boots and coats strewn about. She didn’t focus on that. Our back entrance provided affirmation that she had value and was loved unconditionally.
So last year, when we bought a new door, there was a feeling of accomplishment on our part. Everyone likes to make their home more appealing and welcoming. We saved and bought a door that added aesthetic value as well as heat efficiency. It was nice to have something new.
But nothing else about the “back door” has changed. Except my perception of it and what it means for us.
I have learned that when people use that door, they feel comfortable. Intimate. Our front door is for people like the UPS carrier, a girl scout selling cookies, trick or treaters, or guests with whom we haven’t developed much of a relationship.
The back door crowd sees us in all our “nakedness”, and still choose to enter our home. And I need to let down my guard and accept it.
For, despite what my door may look like, it represents something beautiful.
What area of your home has become your unexpected place of hospitality?