Being a good friend during family business bankruptcy?
February 11, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

One of the better people I know is in the early part of bankruptcy filing after her husband discovered his business partner (and lifelong best friend) had amassed volumes of hidden debt to provide his family with all of the nicer things in life. How can I help as a friend?

The friend is already exercising well, taking good care of the children and her stunned spouse, and is just trying not to break.

I'll be happy to pick up dinner and the phone as much as needed, but wondered if any Mefites who have been there in the central or friend role had anything that really helped-- any stories I can relate back to her or resources for the people who just have to watch the carnage unfold and try to make the best of it. Or is there anything I should NOT do aside from the obvious poking and prying and sermonizing?
posted by Arch1 to Human Relations (4 answers total)
Come up with ideas of things to do, rather than just being there if she asks. It's incredibly difficult for people to reach out, no matter how open you feel you're being to helping. So instead of "Let me know if I can do anything," say, "Hey, why don't I bring over dinner tonight?" or "How about if I take the kids out to see the Lego movie tomorrow night?" But don't take it personally if she declines. Just say "Okay" and come up with something else the next day or so.

As you say, avoid the poking and prodding and sermonizing. Never, ever try to put a good face on it or attack the business partner. If she or her husband does it, just listen and nod and change the subject.
posted by Etrigan at 9:37 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

My experience when friends have been through something very stressful is that they appreciate someone just treating them normally and acting as a safety valve when needed - to vent to, to cry on, joke with, to take care of kids or other matters, to generally be the person they can spend time with but not feel judged, not get asked unwanted questions and not have to explain their situation.

Don't patronise or be overly sympathetic all the time. Don't make promises you can't keep. Don't tittle tattle. I would also advise not leaping in to criticise the business partner unless you are being invited to. Just be you, be patient, and take your lead from your friend.

Bankruptcy is financial disempowerment. It strips one's dignity. It also removes the ability to enjoy whatever money you do have because there is always a better use for spare cash than looking after yourself. You can provide actual support where they would have to spend money - like babysitting or lending things they need that you have. You can take care of little bills like inviting your friend for coffee or lunch and picking up the bill, or taking her out for a drink, or doing the driving so she doesn't have to pay for gas. In short, do things that are fun or stress relieving that do not cost her money so she has to feel guilty about them. Like Etrigan says, don't make them ask to be treated - just do it and don't make a big deal of it.

You could also make the offer in advance of actual money in the event they had a crisis. They can't borrow it so if they suddenly have a co-pay or their washing machine breaks or whatnot you could help. But you have to mean it, and it shouldn't be an obligation.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:46 AM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the big thing is definitely do not treat this as though it is a tragedy akin to having a death in the family or something. It is difficult, but the thing is, the worst part of bankruptcy is the shame. Is the business actually closing, or is it just restructuring? If aside from his partner's problems he was capable of running a successful business, they will almost certainly be fine on a financial level, one way or another. They will honestly be credit-worthy again... well, quicker than you would expect. It's a rotten thing that happened, but sometimes people avoid talking about it to friends and family because of the tendency to blow it up into a disaster when they're already under a lot of stress.

I'm not opposed to stuff along the lines of "taking her out for a drink", but I'd be really cautious about anything that makes it seem like you're paying for a lot of stuff on a regular basis. People who are in a bad financial position can feel really ashamed when it feels like they're being propped up by others. Better to be sure that when you do anything together, you're doing things that are affordable, or better, free. "Hey I found this great show on Netflix, how about I come over and we can hang out and watch it" kind of things. Try to maintain some normalcy.
posted by Sequence at 10:31 AM on February 11, 2014

When my parents went through this, it was a really long process (took a few years to settle out for Reasons). During that time, a beloved friend of the family would take us kids out once a month. Usually we just went to the airport and laid on the hood of her Chevy Nova and watched the planes land for a couple hours, and then got ice cream on the way home. It wasn't a big to-do, didn't cost a lot of money, and my mom said it was a huge help - if nothing else, she knew she would, at some point in the month, have a few hours free to just cry as much as she wanted without worrying about us hearing her. I never knew that part until my mom told me a few years ago - she was always clear eyed when we came home. All I knew is that it was a nice break to be away from all the stress in the house, and that sometimes I could talk to Family Friend about things when I couldn't talk to my parents (I was in my tween-early teenage years, and that was really helpful).
posted by RogueTech at 12:49 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

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