by Nichole Hacha-Thomas
Thursday, April 21, 2011
As a parent, you want to protect your children from some of the tough realities of life. But what do you do when you are unable to do that? If you’re facing unemployment, illness or some other stressor yourself, what do you tell your kids?
Linda Bewley, from Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, shares her personal experience with such a situation.
“You have cancer” are three words that turn your world upside down. The moment you hear those words, your life changes. Will I live or die? What sort of treatment will I have? How sick will I be? How will I care for my family? These are just some of the questions that instantly come to mind. It’s a time of huge change, uncertainty and fear. For most of us, sitting down to talk to our kids is not the first thing we think of when we receive this diagnosis. And, when we do think of it, the idea of sitting with our children and trying to make sense out of a disease that we don’t understand, and are scared of, is intimidating. Do we dare show this fear to our children who see us as invincible?
We often assume — incorrectly — that children are too young or too self-absorbed (in the case of tweens and teens) to be overly affected by this diagnosis. Well, that is wrong. Children always know — maybe not all of the details — but they do know something has happened and they are immediately affected.
Being honest at this time can be painful for you, but telling them from the beginning allows them to become part of your team.
Speaking from past experience, these little people need to be considered right from the beginning. Children are very tuned in to family issues, even if they don’t make it apparent. They need to be included in this life changing crisis, because it does affect them directly. If they aren’t, the consequences will come out, and usually in a negative way. By letting your kids become part of your ‘team,’ they can feel useful by participating in age appropriate actions.
My daughter, who was 6 at the time, had her friends help her make a huge welcome home sign and made me get well cards on a regular basis (which I still have today). My son, age 10, helped do chores around the house when I was just too tired. Both children suffered from fear at first because I tried to protect them from this family crisis. Once I was honest with them, we were all able to function as a team and re-establish the bond of trust that had been broken. Let your children be there for you as you are for them.
I believe in situations like this, communication is the key, no matter what the age of the children. Children have the right to know, and need to know, what is happening in their family. Being open and honest, encouraging them to ask questions, and sharing age-appropriate information with them will help them face and deal with the issue. Trying to protect your children from the unpleasant truths will only make children distrustful, both of their parents and of their own perceptions of what is happening. The most important thing at this time is for your children to trust their parents — the most important people in their lives.
Learning Link, launched in 2009, is an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation that helps link people and organizations providing learning opportunities for children and adults and align their educational goals. This series, “What’s in your parenting toolbox?” is written by the Adult Lifelong Learning team which encourages adults to improve
themselves, their families and their community through continuous learning.