Parenting sick kids

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Learn more about the parent behind this story here.]

Parenting a child with any chronic illness is, to put it lightly, a challenge.

I strongly believe that IBD is “different,” but that’s a topic for another day.

Other parenting topics that we will save for another day include advocating for your child with regard to healthcare and (key the “Schoolhouse Rock” music) Knowledge is Power!

In fact, today we’re not going to focus on your child or children with IBD at all.  We’re going to concentrate on your other children.  So, this post may not apply to you at all, and if it doesn’t, move along, move along, there’s nothing to see here.

When I speak to parents, one of my messages is, “We tend to treat our kids with IBD differently, don’t we?  Maybe we let them out of chores.  Maybe we let them do things that we don’t let their siblings do.  Right?”

[At this point, every parent’s head is bobbling up and down.]

Then I say, “It’s OK.  It’s natural.  And there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re always going to have a tendency to want your sick child to get the most out of the time that he/she feels well.  But, remember that you have other children.”

Oh, yeah.

This is far from an exact science, and specific family dynamics will affect how you navigate through this part of your challenge.  But here are a couple of tips.

First and foremost, you must remember and be sensitive to the fact that each of your kids are dealing with all of the same every day issues that all kids deal with, and you need to be there for them as best you can.  While it may be the last thing you want to discuss and you may deem it “unimportant” given that you are awaiting medical test results, your daughter’s bad experience on the bus merits your attention.

Second, you must let your other children, in an age appropriate manner, know what is going on.  I was 8 when I was diagnosed with UC, and my sister, KK, was then 6.  KK recently confided in me that she thought I was dying.  My parents never had the, “Han’s tummy is sick, but he’s going to get better” discussion with her.  My parents needed to understand that her life was turned every bit as upside down as everybody else’s by my illness.

Chores around the house are also tough.  It’s not like Sela and I ask our kids to go down to the creek with a washboard and scrub their clothes, but setting and clearing the table, putting stuff away, taking out garbage, caring for (no codename needed) Izzy the dog—those are things we expect from our kids.

Here’s the tightrope.  We’re not going to ask Jed or Tink to do any of these things when they don’t feel well enough to do them.  But we also don’t want our healthy kids to carry more of a share of the load.  The last thing we want is for Elly Mae to be “mad” at or “resent” Jed or Tink for being sick.

I remember a discussion that I had with Tinkerbell when Jedediah was at his sickest—in and out of the hospital.  Tink was 14, and Jed was 12.  I went to speak to Tink and I said, “Don’t think for a minute that your mom and I don’t recognize that you’re getting short shrift.  We absolutely recognize that we haven’t been there for you as much as we would have liked, and we’ll make it up to you.”

Tink’s response still brings tears to my eyes.  “Dad, it’s OK, Jed needs you.”

I figured we must be doing something right.  But most of all, it was just another example of Tink’s awesomeness.

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