good gift for hard times
May 18, 2023 5:02 AM   Subscribe

What is a good gift by delivery for an old friend whose spouse left her with small children? I would be present if I could, but I am states away.

She has not asked for anything except support, which I am glad to give her, but in this situation it can't seem very concrete. AFAIK, the spouse is a good parent, but one of the children has special needs and the other is a baby, so it cannot be easy to start coparenting in that situation.

I was going to send food, but I'm not sure if the one kid has a special diet or allergies that would make that a problem in the house, even if it was just for mom. A gift card might seem like another form to fill out if she's under heavy pressure. If you were in this situation, what did you want? (I express affection and worry by gift-giving or food, so maybe that is not the right response, and that's a good answer too.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh gosh. Can you say that you'd like to pay additional child care on the weekend or as needed so that she can get some time to herself to think? Could offer her to either send her the money or pay her sitter she prefer.
posted by stray at 5:19 AM on May 18, 2023 [2 favorites]

You can ask. Consistency in particular is a gift, so just ask "can I arrange a weekly meal or two for you for a couple of months? Are there any food restrictions?"

I do this for people going through stuff, and it's always best to ask. They may already have local help on certain days, there may be one particularly difficult day or part of the week where you can best chip in, or maybe some part of the day is especially a challenge. I have done:

- Ready-to-heat meal subscription like Factor, with me or them or the algorithm choosing the weekly meals
- Weekly sending a grocery delivery that easily assembles into a meal (my go-to is the refrigerated-not-frozen family-size Rana lasagna, bag of salad, bag of steamer broccoli, frozen garlic knots; there's also rotisserie chicken, whatever veg the kids will eat, ready-to-heat deli mac and cheese, rolls; if they have a grocery/deli that does decent sandwiches you can send a sandwich party plate and mini-bags of chips - this is extremely popular with nursing parents who are often one-handed and people with small grazing children)
- Weekly family meal delivery from a restaurant, and I like to do something that offers some leftovers: couple of pizzas, a shawarma/kebab meal for 2-4, a couple pounds of BBQ and sides, a round of Chinese or Thai food.
- If you don't have a ton of money to throw at this, just a delivery every other week or so of cereal, daycare/school-friendly snack packs, maybe a sleeve of freezer bagels or a box of frozen waffles, stuff that'll get eaten eventually and doesn't go bad fast. Again, just ask, I'm sure she has a list of good items in her head.

If you have the wherewithal to take on the recurring cost of a home helper, lawn service, errand-runner (this might be more welcome that someone who's going to come into the house with the kids and therefore needs extra vetting), or handyperson to drop by fortnightly or monthly for those "honey-do" tasks, ask her about doing that.

You can also offer, if her schedule allows, a weekly coffee date just to talk for a few minutes - just something she can count on. Maybe you end up using it for a vent session, or maybe she needs a human accountability partner for keeping up with stuff, or maybe you just share funny animal videos back and forth.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:43 AM on May 18, 2023 [9 favorites]

Instead of a delivery, some kind of gift certificate for, or an offer to pay for, a home helper or a baby sitter or something would probably go over better. She's probably already got enough "stuff", and the loss she's had is of a person who can help her deal with all that stuff.

But granted, that can also get really spendy. So if you're on a tight budget: one of the best ideas I saw ever for this kind of "long distance crisis support" was an order of a big case of paper products like toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, facial tissues, etc. It was something I saw recommended for someone to send to a long-distance friend whose parent had just died; the thinking was, the grieving family was going through so much chaos that the little annoying errands were going to fall by the wayside, and the last thing you want to have happen when you're dealing with all that chaos is to run out of toilet paper or do dishes or whatever. So, sending them a big case of toilet paper was relieving them of that easy-to-overlook chore. ....also, there's something intrinsically funny about getting an enormous box of toilet paper delivered, so it might also give them a bit of a chuckle. (I think the person who recommended this said that they also called their friend they'd just placed the order and joked, "I'm about to T.P. your house!")

I did something like this for my own BFF when her father died, and did it again recently for my other BFF who's struggling to care for aging and ill parents; I sent them each a whole lot of paper plates, paper cups, and disposable cutlery and told them I was giving them the gift of not having to wash dishes for a month. They both each appreciated it greatly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:22 AM on May 18, 2023

If they're in an area with meal delivery services, an Uber Eats or Door Dash or whatever gift card always seems to be a hit with people when I give it as a gift during their stressful times. It allows so many options so that if there are allergies they can just order from where they know is safe for them.
posted by urbanlenny at 6:33 AM on May 18, 2023 [3 favorites]

If you have connections to her community local to her (friend, family, organizations, neighbors), you can set up a meal and/or chores train, using something like You'd want to make sure she's ok with this idea and get any input on for restrictions, how often (e.g. vegetariand and but free dinners 3x a week; weekly vacuuming), but this can be a great way to rally the community and have recurring help while she gets her feet back under her.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:16 AM on May 18, 2023

All the suggestions above are great. I still have the small card a thoughtful friend-of-a-friend sent with a delivery bouquet from years ago. It was such an unexpected surprise and while she and other friends gave practical gifts, sometimes what you need is roses with the bread. Flowers in a reusable vase are a lovely spot of brightness to add on.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:33 AM on May 18, 2023

Are you mutual friends with people who are in her day-to-day life? They'll have group texts going, they'll know when her house is a wreck and which cleaning service to hire, when a Zoom happy hour is in order, which delivery app she already has on her phone if any, what her child's dietary restrictions are, etc. and you can pool your resources that way. A "tribe" is one of those things that's worth far more than the sum of its parts.

Aside from that, I'd take her at her word that the support she needs from you is of the you've-got-this/this-sucks/I'm-here-for-you variety. She is likely on autopilot dealing with all the legal and financial details, figuring out coparenting with her children's father, watching for/planning against negative fallout on their psyches, etc. So don't add to her to-do list: no gifts she'd feel obligated to write thank-you notes for or that you aren't 100% sure she can use, no food-related gifts if you don't already know her children's dietary needs.

I wouldn't send money or gift cards either unless she has shared concerns about her new financial situation with you. People make all kinds of presumptions about single parents, and pity is a harsh judgment. She may be suddenly poor or needy because she and her children's father live separately, but it's just as likely she doesn't need that kind of support at all.

She has not asked for anything except support,

Take her at her word. A few ideas:

- Send a note reminding her of something funny/fierce/sweet about her from your early friendship that she can think of when she's feeling depleted.
- Send occasional nice/snarky cards that remind her she's more than a 24/7/365 worried mom.
- Text riddles/memes/Spotify links/whatever vibe you text on.
- Send age-appropriate regular (not divorce-related) kids' books.
- Buy an appetizer/round of drinks via Venmo when she does go out with local friends.

If you are close enough friends for visits and are in a position to do so, then you might offer to visit, staying in a hotel, when it would suit her best to have you around. That could be when she's apart from her kids and needs a distraction rather than when she's super busy.

It's sweet of you to want to support your friend. My boys were little when their father left too, and I'm still grateful for the friends who showed up then and throughout their growing-up years.
posted by headnsouth at 8:00 AM on May 18, 2023

I agree with those who suggest you to take her at her word that all she needs is support. Be there for her with consistent, yet undemanding contact. Be a listening ear and a source of genuine encouragement. Send a nice card from time to time to offer support or a smile. Reminder her that you will be there for the long haul.

I don't think you need to spend money on gift cards etc., unless she makes a financial need known.
posted by fies at 8:24 AM on May 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

She might appreciate a regular check-in with a good friend. She might like to have someone come in and clean/organize her space that she's now a single parent in. I am not a single parent but one of the best gifts I got was the offer of regular babysitting from a friend on a schedule. It's worth asking her in a low-pressure way would A) B) or C) be helpful because even just knowing someone sees her and wants to support is its own support.
posted by *s at 9:04 AM on May 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

- paying for a house cleaning

- grocery gift card

- offering to babysit

- bring over a hot home cooked meal/set up a meal train
posted by amaire at 2:54 PM on May 18, 2023

I have bought robot vacuum cleaners for people with small children/busy jobs. They seem to greatly appreciate them.

It wouldn't suit some people (a home with tricky floors, people who leave out stuff or aren't willing to hide all the cables, people who dislike robot overlords), but for most people it's a present that makes life easier.
posted by kjs4 at 7:44 PM on May 18, 2023

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