From August to October this year my family was in a bad way. Our baby started at childcare, and he brought home very nasty short-term illnesses week after week after week. (Even people familiar with this phenomenon thought we had an unusually unlucky run of it, it was something like seven respiratory illness and three rounds of gastro.) There were weeks that none of us were out of bed for long. There were weeks we didn’t sleep. There were many times when we were all sick simultaneously and had trouble feeding ourselves.

Various people have said they wished they could help, or is there anything that could help next time, so I thought I’d toss some ideas out there.

Important note: I am not asking for these things now. We’ve been well for a couple of months and are doing OK! I’m providing them for reference in case you need to help another friend who is caught in a mess of family illness or severe stress or similar. I realise that almost all of these require money: if you don’t have money or time to help someone a card or note is appreciated, I think!

I think the main problems were decisions and planning, frankly. If in order to accept an offer of help, I needed to look at a calendar and cross-match with someone else’s calendar, plan a menu, write up the baby’s feeding and care needs, it was too much work. At times I was literally cognitively incapable of that kind of reasoning due to utter exhaustion.

Finally, you do have to ask if your help would be appreciated, but I think the thing to do is to present a pretty concrete plan. Eg, “I want to help by ordering you some ready-made meals from the supermarket for delivery tomorrow. Any allergies, diets or food preferences I should keep in mind? Also let me know if it’s a totally bad idea, or if there’s another way to help.”

Stuff that might have been helpful, given that:

  1. ordering groceries to be home-delivered to us, especially if we didn’t have to plan the menu! Just simple meal staples that could be boiled or stuck in an oven or toasted. Since we don’t have many geographically local friends, this was probably more practical than cooking food and dropping it off. You can order groceries online around here, good stuff.
  2. likewise ordering takeaway meals, except harder if anything to order online.
  3. perhaps paying for extra childcare for a day or two (although almost all of them don’t take sick kids, so it would have had to be during an interlude). For a child in existing daycare like Vincent, their existing centre can often take them for extra days if paid for. For reference this would have cost about $70 a day I think (we get some government benefits towards it) and we can’t afford it ourselves.
  4. paying for a two-hour house clean.
  5. simple treats, like wine or chocolates.

Stuff we didn’t find very useful, with reasons. Not to make anyone feel guilty, but to perhaps help decide whether to offer these things:

  • “We’ll look after him!” For various reasons we were often unable to take advantage of this. We generally didn’t want to give someone else what we had. Or it involved a lot of careful calendar planning and comparison in return for half an hour of babysitting. If I need to spend an hour planning the babysitting for an hour of babysitting, it isn’t as helpful. This might work better if you have long periods of time available. And, sadly, if you are not an experienced child carer, a sick baby with sick parents is probably not the place to start.
  • “Come and stay with us! We’ll do all the work while you relax!” Firstly, we were too sick to drive for other than a very short period of time, and the people making this offer were some hours away. Secondly, when we did take it up, Vincent got very sick away from good medical care and was distraught at the destruction of his routine. He also wanted me to do most of his care. Obviously that was partly bad luck. But travelling with a sick baby is a pain in the neck, so this could be hard to arrange unless you live conveniently to each other.
  • General offers of visits: we were worried about getting people sick, or having to cancel because we were, our house was a mess, we didn’t have any food to offer them, and all the hours I had free from sickness and sick-baby-ness I was spending catching up on work commitments that people were screaming for. I suspect this varies a lot, many people are badly in need of contact with the outside world in this situation.

On that last, maybe keep an eye out for a drop in Chicken Little-ness from your friends, and visit, or invite them to a low-key local outing when the immediate pressure is off. One can emerge from these things with distinctly fewer social contacts, if they’ve gone on for long enough.