What NOT to do when your friend is going through a separation or divorce
When someone in your circle is going through a separation or divorce, it's not always clear how to help or what to say. Here are some "dos" and "don'ts" to make that a little easier.
DON'T act like you know what your friend needs. You don't want to foist a night of dancing on someone who just wants to disappear for a while, and nor should you assume your friend wants to be left alone.
DO ask how best you can help. Everyone who goes through a major life event like the loss of a marriage is going to experience it differently. Your friend may want distraction or quiet walks in the woods or a pair of boxing gloves or a van to carry stuff to goodwill.
DON'T ask "Was it mutual?" or "What happened?!" If you don't already know, you're not close enough to ask. Besides there are no tidy talking points to cover this raw, nuanced territory.
DO make yourself available to chat about the separation if your friend seems to want to share.
DON'T presume you're helping by offering a playdate. Your friend may not want to
be without his or her children and may already be missing them when
they're in the care of the other parent. Or it could be that by taking
the child who is old enough for playdates, you're
removing a playmate for the younger, higher-needs child, and a source of conversation and happy interaction for your friend.
DO ask what kind of childcare is really needed, and be open to having siblings over, too. Or ask if you can time a playdate with a younger child's nap.
DON'T assume your friend will feel awkward in a room full of couples. Couples are the world your friend knows, and being suddenly locked out of the circle is very hurtful. He or she is likely grappling with a staggering loss of social status and you contribute to the isolation of single parents when you don't extend the invitation.
DO make your friend welcome, but not obligated, to bring another person of either sex to the party or outing.
DON'T assume a single-parent can't get or afford a babysitter. Your friend may have off-duty nights when the other parent is looking after the children. And in fact, it's possible he or she out-earns you. Not every divorced parent is financially strapped. Maybe your pal has wildly under-spent on entertainment and eating out since finding himself at loose ends!
DO make sure you give your friend the opportunity to decline rather than assume he or she won't want to participate or be able to make it happen. Even if she can't come the first time, be sure to keep asking. Maybe next time that teenaged neighbour or kind aunt will be available.
DON'T waffle on an invitation. When your friend invites you to do something, don't leave them hanging and waiting to see if you get a better offer. Likely she's learning to set things up in advance to avoid loneliness and keep things fun for the kids. And you don't want your friend to feel like the person you call only when your spouse is out of town.
DON'T gossip. There isn't anybody that's going to help, or anyone that's going to entertain for more than a minute.
DO be humble. Your friend never dreamed he or she would be in such a position, and you may find yourself there one day, too.