Parenting with a health condition – overcoming the challenges.
Nothing can make you think more carefully about being a parent than being faced with NOT being a parent anymore. Not being able to see your child, who lies sleeping in their bed oblivious to the goings-on around them. To see them grow up and play their favorite sport and score a goal, or want a hug or snuggle from their mom, or just to be…part of their everyday life – the daily grind.
That exact thought first hit me like a sledgehammer on 18 May 2010 after being diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor. My first thoughts after my diagnosis were of my son and husband. Would I get to see my son grow up and would I grow old with my husband?
My heart literally felt sore, almost shattered, inside my chest. As parents, we will do anything to protect our children; it really is a primal instinct.
Whilst my brain tumor was non-malignant, it was in a ‘malignant location’ leading to a host of uncertainties. As parents, we are always playing the protector, the guider and supporter. But sometimes the tables are turned, for now the parent is the one whose body or mind is struggling with a diagnosis and health condition.
The past years have shown me how very strong and resilient children can be. At the same time, I have realized that uncertainty, change and the presence of medical interventions can be confusing. It becomes a balancing act between how much you ‘let on’ and discuss versus how much is manageable and appropriate for them for their age and maturity level.
As a parent with a health condition, my biggest learning was to stay in tune with my son’s emotions. Children are different from adults in how and when they process the details of an uncertain or tumultuous event. I also learnt to be more in touch with my own emotions as I navigated the uncertainty and health dilemmas I was facing. Being honest about how I was feeling when I was having a bad day and feeling exhausted was important. He could understand why my patience levels were lower than usual. But, to be honest, there were times I put on a mask, to hide away the reality of the day from him – a wee six year old whose life was more about the joys of play dates and cupcakes!
Learnings from parenting with a health condition:
– Telling your child
Every child is different age wise and maturity wise as to how and when you are able to discuss the nature of your health condition. It often depends on the severity of the health condition, impact of hospital stays and doctors appointments on your daily routine.
– Hospital visits
Hospitals, especially high care or ICU settings, can be a scary place for adults, let alone kids. Depending on the length of stay, determine if your child will find this a positive experience to see their parent in the hospital or if a phone call or Face time will be enough for them to feel connected with you.
– Find ways to connect with your child each day in a way that is meaningful to you both – one that works for you and your health condition. Sometimes fatigue and pain can inhibit the usual way in which we connect with our children; so look for more creative ways.
– Take five minutes each day when you do have the energy to revel in the love you have for your child. Just be with them and do whatever it is that they want to do. Let them feel all that attention just for them, in that moment. So if it starts to unravel at the end of the day, they remember subconsciously the moment you shared.
To read more on this topic, Two Steps Forward Chapter 21 Being a Parent is written specifically on parenting with a health condition as it definitely adds another paradigm to parenting itself!
Would love to hear from any other parents as to how they have personally managed with a health condition.
It takes a village to raise a child.
parenting with a health condition
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