Last week we talked about how to get the help you need from communities of support. But just as families dealing with chronic illness may need help, you may also need space to work through challenges yourself and space to be a “normal” family. Even family members who mean well may overstep with their efforts to help. Think about the mother-in-law who decides you can’t take care of the house while managing a child’s medical care, so she moves in with all her cleaning supplies. This may be what you need, but when it’s not, the challenge becomes communicating with these well-meaning family members or friends without driving a wedge between you and the very people who care most about you.
When asking for space from family or friends during your family’s medical challenges, keep the following three things in mind:
1. Be Honest
Honesty is the emotional equivalent of ripping off a Band-Aid: It may hurt a little at first, but not for long. The alternative is letting a situation fester and bother you to no end. If you’re dealing with a medical challenge, the last thing you need is another ongoing headache. Be sure to set clear boundaries. Maybe that means limiting visiting hours at your home. Maybe it’s leaving certain rooms of the house messy. Now of all times, your friends and family should forgive your honesty, especially if you ask them to.
2. Communicate Clearly
If you don’t tell your friends and family how to help – or not help –all they can do is guess. Maybe your mother-in-law would want a live-in housecleaner if she were in your situation. So sit down and have a heart-to-heart with her to ensure that she understands your boundaries and needs. Remember, the same friends and family who may be overstepping your boundaries may be valuable sources of emotional support, if you learn to negotiate with them authentically. Doing so now could make for a much better, deeper relationship in the long run, anyway.
3. Redirect Help
So you don’t want the house cleaned. What about the grocery shopping? Or if you don’t approve of the never-ending sweets your neighbor gives your well child after school every day, maybe that family could bring your child to play at a park on weekends rather than providing after-school care. In other words, if you’re dealing with ongoing health challenges in your family, there are almost certainly things you could use help with. If you have people who want to help, redirect them from unhelpful tasks to ones that truly make your life easier and less stressful.
When it comes down to it, friends and family who crowd your personal space also show you how much you are loved. The more honest and direct you are about transforming help into something useful and supportive, the more you can focus on navigating your family’s health challenges. Knowing that friends and extended family can be trusted to manage some of life’s details outside the illness can be a huge relief and help you get through very difficult times.