17 June 2013

Helping in Another Home: Part 1

Dear Lissy,

One of the ways God has used me over the years is helping in others' homes during extended seasons of difficulty.  There are three or four different scenarios, and each requires a different wisdom.

Part 1:  Helping when a momma is still home, but unable to be on her feet.
Part 2:  Helping a Dad & kids run the home when momma is away.
Part 3:  Helping a single mom.
Part 4:  Helping an overwhelmed momma
Part 5:  Helping a busy momma.

Today we'll just chat about helping a lady who has to be off her feet for an extended period of time.  Short term help is usually handled by the church, but long term needs are beyond the scope of most church ministries. This is often the help you'll be giving an elderly couple, the terminally ill, or a very young family

1.  Prayerfully consider how much assistance you can give and still care for your own family.
Prayer is the first step before helping another person no matter what the circumstance.  Your husband or roommates should be a part of the decision making process, too. Don't give away what you haven't first given at home.   If your husband says "no," consider the matter closed.

You also need to pray about how much assistance you can offer.  Are you going to bring in one meal a week or run laundry three times a week?  Do you have the ability to provide transportation for a family member?  Childcare?  Start small and build, or as Daddy would say, "under-promise and over-deliver".

2.  ASK her in what areas she would prefer assistance.
After you've prayed, speak privately with the woman you are seeking to assist and her husband.  She may insist that she doesn't want or need help, in which case you can simply assure her that you are praying and available.  Follow up with her in a couple of weeks, but don't offer help more than twice.

Ask her how you can best help her in the time you have available.  Often it will be something simple like picking the kids up from school, or taking the dog for a walk.  An elderly person may need a ride to the doctor or grocery store.  For a lady on extended bed rest, a thorough weekly cleaning  or taking the children after school is often the most welcome help.  Don't be surprised if an elderly or terminally ill person simply wants your company.  One new mama I worked with wanted someone to come and study the Bible and pray with her because she missed her weekly ladies' Bible study.

3.  Assist to her standards, not your own.
Cook, clean, and assist with childcare in a way that's a blessing, not a backhanded criticism of her choices.  For one family of picky eaters I rarely made meals, but instead grocery shopped and bought food her husband and kids could fix for themselves.  They wouldn't have eaten a simple homemade ziti bake, but they loved their Tostino's pizza rolls and microwave popcorn.  I only knew that because I asked.  Everyone else in our Sunday school class brought them homemade food that ended up in the trash.  Find out about food allergies and preferences before you bring a meal.

If  that sweet little grammy keeps the house tidy, pulling out all the stops and giving the house a spring cleaning top to bottom may insult her.  Whenever you clean, be sure you ask what and how much they want done.
  • The first four of the five most important household tasks are a good place to start if they're uncomfortable giving you direction.  
  • Most people don't want you in their master bed and bath unless you are already close friends.  
  • Many men are uncomfortable with anyone but their wives or themselves doing their laundry.  
  • This is NOT the time to re-organize or dig out a basement or attic.  Keep the decisions for the lady who is ill to a minimum.
  • You may be tasked with jobs you consider OCD or a waste of time, like cleaning blinds slat by slat.  Bless them by doing it well and without complaint.

Your only priorities for short term child care are to keep the children safe and happy.  You are not their parent.  I messed up in this area with a family we had in our church, and it is one of my biggest regrets.  Their mom chose to parent for happiness, and the whining and rivalry between siblings was nearly unbearable.  I thought I could pop in like Supernanny, and ended up (understandably) offending the mother. I could have endured a few afternoons of whining far more easily than the drama that ensued.

If they run a daycare, or give a friend or grandchildren a free place to plop their kids, that is not your problem or obligation.  They need to make other arrangements if they are unavailable for a long time.  Don't become entangled with their commitments to another person. 

4.  Respect the family's privacy.
It is a privilege to help another person in their home.  If you can't keep your mouth shut, don't offer help.  Period.  No one except your husband should be aware you're helping unless that family chooses to share your ministry.  Your kids need to be taught from a very young age that helping another family is "family business" and not a topic of discussion.  When you find out a couple has separate sleeping arrangements, or that they love a T.V. show  you consider filth, it may be tempting to share that juicy little tidbit.  Don't.

Equally important is understanding that many people, like us, are very private about their lives.  Your pastoral staff, a judge or other high-ranking official, and even company executives probably won't welcome in-home assistance.   If your assistance causes embarrassment or discomfort for the family, it's not a blessing.

5.  Don't offer in-home assistance unless you have been in the home.
I've been in the home of a busy mother of five that was always tidy, and a widow that should have been evicted.  There is no rhyme or reason to who keeps their home, and who lets it slide. The worst clean out Dad ever had was in the wealthy town of Quechee, Vermont in an upscale housing development.   If you haven't personally been in the home, volunteer a few hours first before volunteering for weeks.  You have no idea how bad homes can get, for which I am grateful.  Dad and I have had the opportunity many times to see homes where rats, insects, and feces were considered normal living conditions.

You will occasionally run into shocking or illegal things in others homes, too.  Some illegal activities have to be reported, or you are considered guilty as well.  Be careful before taking on a long term, in-home obligation.  If you are no longer able to serve in a home because of what you see; give the family a short, simple explanation and a guarantee of your discretion in the matter.

Ways to assist from outside the home. . .
  • Pick up school-aged children and help them do their homework.
  • Take pre-school children to the park or watch them in your home.
  • Provide meals -- make a casserole, order a pizza, do the grocery shopping
  • Provide disposables - paper plates, cleaning wipes, diapers
  • Offer laundry service
  • Discreet anonymous cash gifts or gift cards.
  • Rides to the doctor.
  • Pre-paid toll or parking cards
 The first few times you assist may be awkward for both of you.  After you are a part of the family's routine, you'll be taken for granted, and the work you do will become expected.  Don't become upset when that happens -- this is when you're serving "as unto the Lord."  Finally, reassure them that God is taking care of your paycheck if they fret about the amount of time and effort you're giving.  The blessings of being the hands for God's heart far outweigh any inconvenience.


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