Parenting Through Serious Illness

Children may need to be prepared to see a Franken-Mama change after surgery.

Children may need to be prepared to see a Franken-Mama change after surgery. Photo by Courtesy Kelly Bryan Smith

When I was first diagnosed with a rare brain tumor more than a year ago, I was scared. But my biggest fears were for my son, then only a year old. How would he cope with having a mama recovering from brain surgery in the hospital for an unknown amount of time? How might he deal with my long recovery process? How would his life change if I woke up vision impaired—or worse?

Serious medical problems are scary for grownups, but they can be even scarier for kids, who may not be able to fully understand or conceptualize the implications of any given diagnosis or treatment or what it might mean for their lives. As a result, offering as much stability and reassurance as possible can go a long way in helping kids cope when a parent is sick.

Top 10 Ways to Maintain Stability for Kids

  1. Keep children's routines as consistent as possible before, during and after the. Make sure the daily schedule offers consistency and stability.
  2. Gradually get kids used to new routines. If you will be staying in the hospital and not putting the kids to bed, start getting them used to the new bedtime routine and new caregivers in advance of the hospitalization, if possible.
  3. If your appearance is likely to change, ease into that change gracefully and gradually. I knew that my head would be shaved for brain surgery, so a few weeks in advance of my operation, I started donning head scarves. I also cut my long hair much shorter in hopes that a bald head would be slightly less of a shock for my son after seeing the intermediate stage.
  4. Pack a few of your child's favorite things to create a home away from home for when he or she visits you in 
the hospital.
  5. If you need to seek treatment out of town and your child is coming along, stay in an extended-stay hotel or a furnished apartment where you will have a more home-like environment and your own kitchen for cooking favorites.
  6. Demystify the medical process by including children in doctors' appointments, if appropriate, reading children's books about hospitals, or purchasing your child a doctor's kit to practice with at home.
  7. Make a meal plan in advance to keep your children well-fed with healthy food at regular intervals, or arrange for family and friends to bring food for the family if cooking is going to be hard to keep up with at first.
  8. Give your child individual attention, playing with toys at home, running around at local parks, reading stories, drawing pictures about how he or she is feeling, and making trips to your favorite local story time. Even if it is an alternate caregiver who is giving that attention to your child, be sure to allow time and space for your child to spend time with you and share their feelings.
  9. Keep your children informed about what is going on in a developmentally appropriate manner that balances honesty with optimism.
  10. Give your kids lots of love and patience.

How to Take Care of Yourself

In a time of serious illness, everyone in the family is probably experiencing a lot of stress. If you are the patient, you are trying to cope with your own physical, mental and emotional stresses in addition to worrying about your kids.

It is important to take care of the kids, but it is also vitally important to take care of yourself in order to best promote the healing process.

  1. If you are physically able, get some exercise every day.
  2. Eat healthy foods and drink lots of water.
  3. Get enough sleep each night.
  4. Spend quality time with your family members.
  5. Get out with friends.
  6. Indulge in bubble baths and great books.
  7. Take time to relax and unwind over a cup of hot tea.
  8. Get a massage, a pedicure or both.
  9. Focus on where you are and what you feel, and tune out everyone else's opinion about how you should feel and act.
  10. Do what you need to do to enjoy your life in the moment and not spend time worrying about the what-ifs.

How to Help a Sick Friend

  1. Invite their kids over for a movie night.
  2. Help cook healthy, kid-friendly meals.
  3. Make an emergency toilet-paper delivery.
  4. Have reasonable expectations. Your friend may not be up for returning phone calls.
  5. Offer to run errands.

Books for Kids

"Nowhere Hair," Sue Glader, Thousand Words Press, 2010, $15.99.

"Mommy Has to Stay in Bed," Annette Rivlin-Gutman, BookSurge, 2006, $15.99.

Comments

LeighMcG 1 year, 9 months ago

As another young mother with a serious and possibly life threatening illness I completely relate to your post. When my son was 6 months old I was told I had Pulmonary Hypertension and had 2-3 years to live. After the initial shock and anger wore off (in which, for the most part, I thought about myself and all I was going to miss) I found my primary concern was my young son. Four years later, blessed with a team of fantastic doctors and grateful to both Eastern and Western medicine my disease has found itself in a holding pattern that allows me to live as close to a normal life as possible. I’m able to take care of my son full time and have settled on a career in writing that allows me to work around my illness. I started a blog www.incaseimgone.com at the 3 year mark of my diagnosis. It was as if passing that benchmark opened up the entire world to me and I felt if it turned out I wasn't going to be here I wanted to leave a legacy for my son so he could have me even if I wasn't physically around. The writing has been instrumental to my mental well being and allows me an outlet in which to put both my fear and hope. It's also given me the opportunity to connect with so many other people and I now find myself in the position to write a book version of the blog. If you are interested, and since we have such similar stories, please feel free to check it out. Again it's: www.incaseimgone.com or you might connect to http://incaseimgone.com/2012/03/12/some-days-are-better-than-others/ All the very best with your illness and your family. God bless. xo Leigh

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