Q&A: supporting a friend through rough times

Pippi writes:

"I was wondering if you and your readers could help me out with someideas. I have a friend, not a super close friend but closer than acquaintance, who has a son my daughter's age (not quite 1.5 years). We met up to take the kids to a play group today and she confided in me that her husband left her last night. I got the impression that this is a very surprising turn of events and that she didn't see it coming, but I didn't want to press for too many details. I told her to feel free to talk about it if she needed to or we could not talk about it if it was too much. She was really emotional and really just wanted to keep it together in front of her son so we didn't talk about it much.

I know this friend has struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. I also know that she's sought help for this and she's comfortable talking about it. She's so worried about the effect this will have on her son and I'm worried about the effect it will have on her because I know she's still in a fragile state.

So my question is, how can I help support her through this? I've already told that my door is open and she should feel free to come over for dinner or company or whatever and that I really mean that. She is such a great mom and a great person and I really want her to know and feel that.

Thanks to you and your readers!"

Boy, is there a lot of divorce going around these days! I think people confide in me more about it since I've been open about my own, but it just seems like there's some grand waking-up-and-walking-out process going on around the world right now.

Anyway, you are a good friend to want to support her at this time. I was told, when I initiated my divorce, that people would come out of the woodwork to support me while others I thought were true blue would fall away, and that's exactly what happened. I'm not sure how someone can go through a divorce with no support, so it's good that you're stepping up.

I think there are a couple of practical things you can do to help her. The first is to invite her over with her son to hang out. Specific invitations, not just an offer for an ear. She will probably be feeling very lonely, perhaps confused, angry, etc. And just being around someone else that she doesn't have to explain and apologize to will be helpful. She may start feeling a little PPD-ish again, and being able to talk to you about it without feeling like you're judging her would be a huge gift.

Another thing that could be extremely helpful would be to do a little babysitting for her. Divorce is a situation that requires a lot of childcare, between the therapy sessions and mediators and lawyers and all that crap. If you could take her son every once in awhile so she doesn't have to find and pay someone else to, it would help her out a ton.

This suggestion may be a little controversial, but I think it could be helpful, depending on her personality, if you could run a little bit of interference for her with the other parents. What I mean is that she is probably going to get tired of explaining and going over the situation again and again, and it might be nice for her just to be able to let someone else fend off some of the questions for a little while. When I was going through my situation, I constantly felt as if I had to defend myself for daring to initiate a divorce. I'd imagine that someone on the other end would feel like she constantly had to apologize, and dealing with expressions of sympathy and/or anger at her husband would be exhausting.

Lastly, be open to what happens for her. It sounds like she and her husband will get divorced, but people do reconcile. And if that happens, she'll need someone who will be able to accept that and not make her feel bad for going back into the relationship, and not badmouth her husband.

Readers, what do you think? What was helpful to you in a similar situation? Have you supported a friend through this process?