One of the most difficult things a parent will ever tell a child is that he or she, Mommy or Daddy, is sick. And not just “I have a cold” sick, but rather, “I am very sick.” Perhaps, at first, the initial instinct will be to not say anything, to protect children from something bad. But other adults in your family and social circle will probably know. What if someone else says something in front of or directly to your children? Isn’t it better they hear about what’s going on with you directly from you?
Emotionally, this can be an agonizing thing to have to do, and it can be physically draining, too. Of course, how the conversation unfolds depends greatly on the age and maturity of the child, the nature of the illness, and, yes, how the parent is coping with the illness. Your doctors can give guidance on how to have the conversation, and others who are living with the illness can also provide hints. But, although I do not have children, I have many friends, fellow patients, who do, and there seem to be four common threads weaving through the way they have communicated with their children.
1) You cannot repeat enough, nor can you show a child enough, that you do and will always love him or her. The phrase, “Love conquers all” applies so beautifully here, in this difficult conversation between a parent and child, and can transcend much of the fear or anger that might bubble up as the conversation, and the illness, continue.
2) Find courage, strength, and peace within yourself and carry it with you into the initial conversation and onward. If you are afraid, even if you do not say so, a child is apt to perceive it and be afraid, too. But if you let him or her know that you are eager to meet this challenge, that you have faith and that, although you are apprehensive, you know that God is with you and the whole family, the child will feel that, too, and be able to take refuge in it. Fortify yourself. Protect yourself. And extend that protection to your child.
3) Be truthful. Yes, be age appropriate and communicate carefully according to your physicians’ guidance (and a counselor, pediatrician, or clergy person’s guidance, too). Children don’t need to know everything. But they do need to know the truth, sometimes with a positive twist to reinforce reassurance. For example, “Yes, I am very sick, but I am doing something about it.” or “Yes, this is hard, but I love you and I am here for you.”
4) Let the child in. Invite your child to ask questions at any time. Engage him or her in conversation, especially if you sense he or she is worried about something or having a hard time coping. Find things that your child can do to help you (read to you, help you tidy up the living room, bake, cuddle). Let them know that you value their presence and their contribution to your life. Let them love you, as you love them.
Whether enduring a long illness or a short one, you are still a parent. A parent who loves your child. What you say in love will be adding strength upon strength for your little one to grow up to be courageous and strong and good – just like you.
Blessings for the day,