I lost a few friends when I got divorced. And I don’t just mean the ones who went with my ex in the post-marital division, but the ones who were my friends all along who just didn’t know how to support me as I went through an incredibly difficult period. Other friends amazed me. They seemed to show up at the right time and place, offered the most helpful responses to my complaints and even brought ice cream to my house after my toddler was asleep (thank you!). But it can be hard to know what to say and how to act.
If you know someone going through a separation and you want to be supportive but aren’t quite sure how, here are five rules to live by when being friends with a newly single parent.
1. Be a nighttime friend
Whether your friend shares custody with her ex or her ex has left the parenting picture, chances are she’s home alone with her kids a lot. And a lot of the time, those kids are (hopefully) asleep. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch before you could use a little human connection. So call or FaceTime her to help make a long evening a little shorter. And every now and then, show up. Remember that your friend is basically trapped in her house from 6 p.m. until daycare drop-off the next morning. She may need someone to run to the store for milk or Tylenol or, let’s face it, ice cream (total emergency, right?).
2. Make yourself useful
I found myself missing a lot of things when I first got separated. Not in a wistful, nostalgic way. Actual things. Here is a partial list of what I was missing after my separation: a dining room table, a device for playing music in my house, pictures on my walls. A wonderful artist friend of mine lent me one of her paintings and hung it for me over my couch. Another helped me buy an audio system so I could have music in my living room. And my neighbour passed her old dining table on to me (I kept it until it was in my budget to buy something new). If you’re handy, maybe you can make small repairs around the house. If you’re tech-inclined, take her shopping for a TV, laptop or whatever else might need replacing. Or if style is your thing, help her recreate her bedroom with a new duvet and throw pillows to match. (I’m still waiting for help on this one, ahem.)
3. Respect the ex
You’re going to want to bitch about your friend’s ex. Those early post-split days are rife with reasons to be outraged about the ex’s behaviour. Sure, it’s messy and often nasty, but don’t get into it. Take cues from your friend, and listen and support her as she complains, but don’t air grievances of your own. After all, this is still the person your friend once chose to marry and is the co-parent of her kids. They’ll be dealing with each other on a very regular basis for years to come, so let’s not make it worse.
4. Help her kids make her a gift
In a perfect world, you’d offer endless babysitting to your friend, but that’s obviously more than most people can offer. But if you can take the kids just once or twice a year, use the time to do something special for your friend. In my case, it was my mom who had my daughter over recently to work on an arts and crafts project as a gift for my birthday. There are a lot of holidays to celebrate, and without a partner in the picture, they can fall pretty flat (and end up being quite depressing). Get those kids over before Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, and help them make something sweet .
5. Take a picture
I can’t stress this one enough. Single parents just never have enough photos. First off, they don’t have pictures of them with their kids because there’s usually no one else around to take them. Next time you’re together with your friend and her kids, grab her phone and start snapping. Get them all smiling, get them silly, get them in action. Second, take pictures of your friend alone. Chances are she’s entering the online dating scene, and she needs shots that make her look fun, easygoing and gorgeous. And selfies just won’t cut it. Don’t wait for her to ask. There’s nothing more humiliating than having to say, “Will you take a picture of me for my Tinder profile?” Trust me. Take her picture. And then take it again and again until you get one that looks amazing.
A version of this article appeared in our April 2016 issue, titled “How to be friends with a recently single MOM (OR DAD!)”, pg. 74.