How can we help a family with a sick parent?

In April 2018, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I never expected to hear a cancer diagnosis at 36 years old. I never expected to have to tell my two young children that their mom was seriously ill. I also never expected the amount of help and support we received from our friends, family, and church/school community. Our lives were thrown into a tailspin for six months as I went through chemotherapy and my husband took over kid and house duties. We would not have survived without the unbelievable outpouring of love and help.

Before I offer advice on supporting a family with a sick parent, I’d like to speak to the person who is ill (or in need of support): Figure out exactly what you need. The following suggestions were most helpful to me and our family, but that was because I carefully evaluated what I needed most and was able to make specific requests when people offered help. Don’t be afraid to say, “This is what we need right now,” when people ask what they can do for you.

That said, when someone you love is going through a tough time, here are some helpful ways to reach out.

Pray!

I cannot put into words what an empowering comfort it was to know that I had people praying for me and my family during my diagnosis and treatment. When life took a surreal turn, we had so many believers on our side, storming His throne on our behalf. It was a huge comfort!

Ask your friend what to pray for specifically. Do they have tests or procedures coming up? Troubling side effects? Kids or spouse struggling with the life changes? A particular challenge you can bring to God? And then let them know you’re praying.

Be specific in your offers of help.

General offers of help (“Let us know if you need anything.”) were always appreciated, but the specific offers of help were much easier for me to accept. “I’m picking up your kids for a day at the zoo, what time works for you?” or “What day this week can I come and clean your bathroom?” It took all the thinking out of it for me. Walk the dog, hang with the kids, clean up the kitchen—little things that, yes, I could still do while sick, but it gave me a little bit of a break to focus on other activities instead.

Sign up for or coordinate a meal train.

My family was beyond blessed to be well-fed throughout my treatment. My good days were spent trying to conserve energy to be with my kids, so cooking/grocery shopping took a backseat. Talk to the person struggling in your life—has someone already set up a meal train? Would it be helpful for them to have meals delivered a couple times a week? If a home-cooked meal isn’t workable, a gift card to a restaurant or meal service is a wonderful alternative.

Send a card or a care package.

Getting mail is special at any time, in my opinion, but getting cards from friends and family near and far during treatment always lifted my spirits while I was sick. My favorites were the cards with terrible jokes (because I love a good dad-joke!), but I also received many beautiful cards of encouragement. Receiving a little care package was also uplifting. I had several days of resting in bed after each chemo and devoured dozens of books shared with me by friends during that time. Consider sending a small care package with a book, a treat, a special blanket they can snuggle under while they rest, or something special for their kids to play with while their parent recovers.

Spend time visiting or listening.

Often when people would ask what I needed, I would immediately answer, “Company!” I am used to being a very busy and social person. To be sidelined for months from my usual routine was incredibly lonely. I loved to have friends drop by for a visit. Be sure to keep it short if it seems like your friend needs to rest. Ask if they need a ride or company for appointments or procedures. Having friends along at my chemo appointments gave me something to look forward to about the appointment.

Whether you reach out in one or many ways, do something, even if it’s just sending a text letting the family know that you’re thinking of and praying for them. Being surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the beautiful benefits of struggling through hard times. God created us to need one another, so don’t be afraid to be the one who needs help or the one who offers it.

Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son who attend school at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. They are members of Grace, Milwaukee.

Struggling with healthy cell phone use

Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are struggling to determine what healthy cell phone use looks like?

Value
Struggling can be good because it helps us identify our values. I really love how God tells us in Deuteronomy to love him wholly—to value him above all things. He doesn’t say fleetingly or haphazardly share his words and precepts. He says, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

We value our God who saved us, and we value the children he’s entrusted to us. And, since we are people using media devices who are raising children in the way of the Lord, how we use and model using devices is an important topic of our struggle . . . when we walk along the road (or drive to school), when we put our kids to bed (or sit in the family room)—really at any and all times.

Evaluate
Remember the expression, “more is caught than taught.” Our kids are watching us and listening—weighing what we say against what we do. Short of some cataclysmic dystopian accident, cell phones are not going away. Children can see if the device appears more interesting to us than the people around us do.

There is value in struggling with how to have and show healthy media habits. Notice when you choose to give attention to a device. While it’s fine to view entertainment online and be connected to others, it’s also good to evaluate: “Is my media time excessive or to the exclusion of those around me?” Evaluate whether you would allow or encourage those choices for your child.

Value in struggle
Recently, I was sitting with my youngest daughter when she beelined to retrieve my beeping phone. I thanked her and told her to leave the phone in the other room because I was spending time with her. The phone could wait.

Herein lies a struggle. We will have times when we need to take phone calls and answer messages. We also don’t want to give the impression that we value what’s on the other side of the beep more than we value the people present.

The apostle Paul reminds us that just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s constructive to do so. He writes, “  ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial.  ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Evaluate how your personal habits appear to your child. Would your son notice that Dad stops what he’s doing to check every notification or that Mom checks her social media in the middle of conversations? None of these situations are necessarily wrong, but each one begs us to evaluate and struggle with: “Is this how I want my child to interact with those around him?” Where are the boundaries—or where would I want them to be?

There is no magic pattern to win the “best media boundaries parent award.” Yet being aware and evaluating media choices makes a difference. Share your values and discuss what you are doing: “I’m putting the phone away because . . .”

You may show healthy boundaries by deliberately putting the phone out of reach more often. Explain why you don’t want phones at meals or decide the family will all put them in the other room or turn them off during family time. Even declare the hour that it’s absolutely okay for everyone to catch up on their favorite media platform.

Let your children have input—work through this together so your family can use these God-given tools in moderate, healthy ways. There will be some struggling, tweaking, and reevaluating, but sharing your values with your children is priceless.

Amy Vannieuwenhoven and her husband, Charlie, have four children ranging in age from a fourth-grader to a high school senior. Amy is a teacher at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and the author of Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You from Northwestern Publishing House.

Consider making a digital resolution in 2019

Our families are at war with technology and digital communication. At a time when information is more readily available than ever and we can connect with friends and loved ones in an instant, depression and anxiety among young adults and parents increase. Many report feeling disconnected from their families because of technology. So something that was designed with the intention to keep us connected actually makes us feel more lonely!

As beloved children of our heavenly Father, we were designed to be in relationships with one another. The very nature of our triune God points to the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our digital age has given us a false sense of interconnectedness by giving us so much information that we assume our relationships are more complete than they might actually be. Instead, we are lonely because we’ve stopped looking into each other’s eyes, and we’re anxious because we feel that we need to post or perform to receive attention.

This year, consider making a digital resolution to turn off the smartphone at dinner; forget the in-the-moment Facebook post; and talk face to face with family, friends, and especially your children.

Your commitment to set a digital resolution in 2019 could include:

  • Setting a specific time and place for technology use in your home.
  • Having all family members agree on when to unplug, perhaps during family meal times and at the same time every night.
  • Committing not to use technology before a specific time on weekends (Mom and Dad, this means you too!).
  • Using the resources on your mobile device to set daily time limits for use for every member in your household. Most Apple and Android devices now include this type of software. Consider a tool like mobicip, which helps parents set healthy limits on their children’s digital experiences (as well as their own!).

When you set limits around your technology use, watch for the Lord to bless your efforts, including more conversation, more face to face time, and perhaps even more hugs.

Laura Reinke and her husband, Matthew, have three teenagers. Laura is a marriage and family therapist at Christian Family Solutions and the director of youth ministry at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.