Anything from a bout with the common cold to a more serious illness can easily upset your household and your children. Especially in the case of a serious illness, children lose their sense of security quickly, and when normal routines are disrupted and the parent is sometimes unavailable, that intensifies the fear that their world is out of control and will never go back to normal.
We cannot shield our children from real life and we shouldn’t, but we can help them during times like these and we can help ourselves by having the right attitude. By “right attitude,” I don’t mean that you should be a pollyanna and pretend that things are okay when they are not. There is a difference between having a positive, calm attitude and in having a silly, “all is well” attitude that belies your true feelings.
Kids understand people much more than most of us give them credit for.
It’s okay to be afraid yourself when the illness of a loved one is life threatening. You don’t have to tell your kids that it is life threatening (they may guess that much), but you can ask them if they are afraid, then affirm that you are, too. If they won’t admit their fear or sadness, then admit yours first. Let them know that you are in it with them and not as someone who holds some kind of secret that you’re not willing to share.
When kids see one parent suffering from an illness and the other parent aloof or emotionally absent for fear of upsetting them, they are doubly insecure. They will be upset; there is no other way to deal with it. If you pretend that all is well when it isn’t, they will know you are lying, and they won’t trust you to tell them the truth when you need to.
Leaving your kids out on an emotional limb will leave you out on one, too. You may have support from your parents or friends, but your immediate family, that is, your kids, won’t support you. They might even become demanding and act out anger as if you or the ill parent have betrayed them, which is what they could very well feel is happening.
If they do begin to act that way, don’t react with anger or you will make it worse. This is the time to talk to them about fear and sadness and to begin to share your true feelings with them, so they can share their true feelings with you. Emotional lifelines are what makes emotional healing possible, no matter what the outcome of a serious illness.