Creating Balance in Life

One of the things that families tell us is that it is a significant challenge to balance all the things in life when a child in the family has a chronic illness.

Juggling time. If the child lives in a two parent family, one parent may be working while the other is trying to balance family, house and all of the issues involved with a sick child. A mom who was working when the child was diagnosed may give up her job in order to be available when the child is sick.

In single parent families, the challenges are magnified by the reality that there is only one person to do all of the tasks. Sometimes, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends or church members are available to help; sometimes they are not.

Siblings may feel all sorts of feelings from jealousy, anger, resentment, guilt and much more. Being shuffled from family to friends may make the sibling unsure of where he "belongs" in the family. The chronically ill child may feel guilty or feel that it is their "fault" that everyone is under a great deal of stress.

There are many things you can do to help you and your family. Some suggestions include:

  • Communicate! — Each of you is feeling the stress of busy schedules, sadness over your child's illness, trying to juggle everyone's needs, and many other emotions. Share your concerns and ways that you may be able to help each other through this challenging time. Talk openly and often.
  • Family time. Build in fun activities — Families often say that it is very difficult to plan ahead. Vacations, family outings, trips to Grandma's may all be canceled due to a trip to the hospital, a fever, or the child just not feeling very good. Substitute other activities, especially if there is a disappointment like a cancelled outing. Family Game Night, movies and popcorn, or a drive in the country with a picnic by a lake may be just as fun as a long-awaited event. After all, the most important thing is that you are all together, doing something enjoyable!
  • Take time to understand one another's concerns — Grown-ups and kids do not have the same types of concerns. Kids may be upset about not being able to sit in the front seat of the car with you or not being able to go alone to the grocery store with you. Similarly, adult concerns about work, finances, and family issues may not be understood by a youngster. Taking time to recognize each others frustrations and concerns is very helpful. It is okay if you never completely understand the other person's point of view. The important thing is to acknowledge that it is important to your family member. Remember, feelings never have to be defended or justified. Sometimes, we just feel a certain way without really understanding "why" ourselves.
  • Laugh! — A mom once complained that it had been months since she and her family had really laughed out loud. To remedy this, she went to the video store and rented funny movies, and visited the bookstore to buy books with silly jokes. Although a family may need to practice laughing during these stressful times, it is true that laughter is good medicine.
  • Family game night. Take care of yourself — With the many things that moms, dads, and other caregivers must do when a child in the family is ill, taking care of ourselves is often the first to be neglected. It is essential that you remember to take care of yourself. Be sure to get plenty of rest, relaxation and good nutrition. A warm, relaxing bath or 15 minutes listening to calming music may enable you to return to the tasks at hand, feeling renewed and refreshed. Accept offers from others to help you by cleaning house, cooking meals, transporting kids or other ways to reduce your load.
  • Cry together — Although this may sound odd at first, sharing your feelings of sadness with your family may enable all of you to better understand your feelings. Children often wonder why their parents or others do not cry around them. They are aware when their illness is serious, or when family members are upset. Not seeing a display of that emotion may be confusing to a child. Explain to your child that you are crying because you are sad that he must experience all that is involved with his illness, and that it is difficult for the entire family. Follow this with a discussion of things that all of you might do to make the situation easier for all family members. This enables your child with an illness and your other children to be part of the solution, and to feel empowered by their ability to help the family. You may be surprised by some of the really great ideas they share!