When your child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, or any chronic condition, the world as you know it shatters. Everything changes and now this tiny human that already depends on you for so much, is counting on you more than ever to make important decisions regarding his health, as well as his social and emotional well-being. While you are the parent and presumably “the rock,” it’s important that you nurture your own self-care by coping with your child’s diagnosis in a healthy and productive manner.
Granted, nothing seems healthy and productive about denial, anger, depression and fear – all common emotions that play a large role in this psychological rollercoaster. Some days, you will feel like a warrior, the matriarch of advocacy and awareness. Other days, you’ll want to crawl under a rock rather than assuming that not-so-much wanted but designated role.
It’s important to remember though that it’s not about you, it’s about them. As their parent, the most important job you have right now is to take care of yourself so you can care for them. While there is no right or wrong way to navigate the likely most difficult journey of your life, here are a few tips that will hopefully make this path a little easier for you and your family:
1.) DO BECOME INFORMED / DON’T TURN TO DR. GOOGLE
While the internet is certainly savvy and easily accessible with its know-it-all mannerisms, googling your child’s symptoms can actually cause more anxiety and detriment. Even if what you find is the truth, it’s important to understand completely what you’re reading and how to process the information you are receiving. If you question your healthcare provider, solicit a second, or even third, opinion.
2.) DO STAY STRONG / DON’T DENY HELP
This is often easier said than done, but probably one of the most important. While your number one priority will always be your child’s health, there are many other facets of your life to manage – such as finances, household responsibilities, and possibly even parenting other children and/or balancing a career. If a family member offers to babysit so you can bond with your partner or a friend organizes an online donation page to help cover medical expenses, try to remain open to their offers of help. They truly do care and want to do whatever they can to make things easier, and this is probably a time in your life that you will need it the most. Allow your loved ones to help you in coping with your child’s diagnosis.
3.) DO ACCEPT EMOTIONAL SUPPORT / DON’T GO THROUGH IT ALONE
Your family has held your hand through every doctor’s appointment and offered tissues as you tried to make sense of a new reality. Your friends text-in daily and have organized a meal train to help lighten your load. This is all fantastic and important as you try to figure out what’s next. But you most likely have an amazing resource in local nonprofits and hospital support groups, both online and offline. Let yourself be emotionally vulnerable and willing to meet new people that are facing or have faced similar obstacles.
4.) DO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT THEIR ILLNESS / DON’T SHARE TOO MUCH
If your child is younger, it’s sometimes better to empathize with them rather than inform them of all of the sometimes scary details. Regardless of age, it’s frightening to know that something is wrong but not to know what that means for you specifically. As your child’s number one supporter, listening is everything. Share as much detail as you’re comfortable sharing, but also let them know that they can talk to you and, while you can’t fix everything, you will always be there.
5.) DO PUT YOUR FAMILY FIRST / DON’T NEGLECT YOURSELF
Regardless of whether or not your child has an illness, their needs always come first. As a parent, you can’t deny that instinct. It’s especially true when you are serving as an advocate for your child’s health. Make sure you eat healthy meals, stay hydrated and while sometimes not easy, get enough sleep. Things will eventually seem routine again and if you’re a parent that enjoys working out, let that be your outlet. Stress management is key to coping with a child’s diagnosis, and it’s important not to lose yourself in this chaos.
When your child is diagnosed with a chronic illness or disability, coping with the child’s diagnosis is an ongoing process. It’s an enormously stressful time for parents and everyone copes in a different way. There are resources available to help you through this process so don’t be afraid to seek support when you need it.