Thoughts For Families With a Sick Child

Childhood CancerHaving a child who is going through health issue can be a very difficult time for a family. You can find yourself feeling lost and alone, overwhelmed, and unsure of where to turn. As a mother of three kids, I have been there myself, and while I’ve been lucky enough that my kid’s health issues haven’t been as serious as cancer ( though we did have a couple of scares) , they have been difficult so  I can understand the stress parents go through. I’d like to share a few things that helped me, and I hope you find them helpful too.

First, take a minute to catch your breath. When you first find out that your child has an illness, it can feel as if you are being bombarded with so much information that your head is spinning. You may feel as if you are almost drowning under the weight of it all. That’s normal. After all, who wouldn’t feel that way upon hearing this type of news? Take a minute and breathe deep breaths.  I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. Allow yourself time to find your center. This will help you in the days that lie ahead.

Give yourself time to absorb the news you have been given. Ask your child’s doctor if you can have a bit of time to develop a list of questions and concerns before you make any major choices. Keep a pad of paper or some other way of taking notes with you all the time so that when something comes into your mind, you can record it before it slips your mind.

Some parents find it helpful to go online and find out every bit of information they can about their child’s condition. Some would rather not know. Do what’s right for you, but I would strongly suggest that if you “take to the ‘net”, you quickly develop a filter, as not everything on there will be helpful to you or even true. Use what helps you and forget about the rest. Take your child’s medical team’s answers as the final authority, as they know your individual situation and all the factors involved.

Based on the age of your child, you may have a lot of questions from them. There may also be fear, sadness and anger from them about their diagnosis. Again, all of that is normal. Allow them to feel what they feel, and understand that you can’t fix everything for them. That’s a hard one for most parents. I have been here myself, and as much as I wished I could take all their pain on myself and make them better, I had to accept that I couldn’t.

Give your child a way to express their feelings. If your children are anything like mine, it may be hard for them to talk about their emotions, especially with their mom or dad, but they still need to let their feelings out.  You can purchase a special journal for them Sick Childto write in, allow them the opportunity to draw, paint or express their thoughts through some other medium. For some kids, a mobile device such as a tablet or netbook with a journal app might be just the thing.

On the subject of feelings and emotions, you’re probably going to go through a whole range of them too. Sadness, anger, uncertainty, and fear (lots of fear) are to be expected. Just as with your child, you need an outlet too. Journaling, talking with supportive friends and family or a professional counselor can make a big difference. If there are support groups in your area, make good use of them.

If you are married or in a relationship with your child’s other parent, going through something like this can strain that bond. Keep it mind that the strain doesn’t have to translate to a break. Be there for each other, and if you need help, this is another place ab where counseling can make a big difference.

If you are having trouble navigating through the health care system, find out if there is a patient advocate that you can access. They will be there for you and your individual situation, and can make the whole process much less stressful.

Having three kids, something that I have found it that it can be all too easy for the siblings of the ill child to feel as if they are being lost in the shuffle, which is understandable. Recognize that this is a very difficult time for them as well, and they need you too. Try and carve out some one on one time with them if you can. Even if it’s just taking younger kids to the playground or the older ones out for dinner, it will make them feel loved, which will go a long way.

One more thing about siblings that I found out the hard way. Depending on their age and ability to understand, don’t try and sugar coat the situation should they ask questions. Be honest. I don’t mean you have to be brutally honest, but keep in mind that, especially with internet access, kids today can easily find out a lot of information on their own. What they may well be looking for is honest assurance. In the case of one of my own kids, we told her younger brother that she was ill, that her doctors didn’t know why but they were doing everything they could to make her better. We gave more “technical” information to her older sister, but it had the same underlying message. If you don’t know the answers to your kid’s questions, it’s okay to admit that. Let them know you will try and find out the information they are looking for.

Keep FightingSomething that is incredibly important for any parent with a child who is facing a major health issue (or any parent for that matter) is to find some time to take care of yourself, and to not feel guilty about it. You need to “recharge” so you can be there and fully engaged for your little one. You can’t do that if you are worn down and exhausted. Take some time to have a decent meal out (and not in the hospital) go for a quiet walk in the park, do some window shopping, read a book, get together with friends and family for an afternoon, go to a movie, show, concert or game, work in your garden, play a sport you enjoy, get your hair done, meditate, do something, anything, to give you a few minutes where your mind can relax. It will leave you fresh and ready to keep up the good fight.

I mentioned it above, and something I can’t endorse enough, is to find a support group for parents going through something similar to you. It can do you a world of good to talk to other people who know and understand.

Finally, one really important thing to keep in mind is that it’s okay to be angry at the situation. It’s okay to wonder why this is happening to your child, it’s okay to be sad and to even cry, to be frustrated, and to feel like you are being pulled in 100 different directions at once. If you feel guilty, remember, none of this is your fault.   You don’t have to be strong and carry the weight of this alone. There are supports that exist to help you, so please ask your child’s doctors or hospital care team about how to access them.  If all else fails, and you feel like you are at the end of your rope and just want to scream, go ahead and do it. Find somewhere private and just cut loose with everything you’re feeling. It can do you a world of good. I say that based on personal experience.

I hope that this has helped you a bit. Bering a parent is one of the toughest jobs, and when you find out your child is sick, it gets 1000 times more difficult. Take care of, and be patient with, yourself. You are doing your best to navigate through a situation nothing can really prepare you for. You are finding your way the best way you know how.

~Jennifer McNutt

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