Dealing with a long-term illness
can be difficult, especially when the person suffering is your parent. When
roles are reversed and children have to help take care of their parents, it can
be very difficult to deal with.
When a serious illness strikes, it
can be a life changing occurrence. Life doesn’t only change for the ill person;
it also changes for all those around him as well. Children need to be prepared
for changes that may come.
First of all, children need to
realise that they are not alone. There is a huge network of people – both
within the family and outside of it – who are willing to help with the situation.
If necessary, arrange a meeting with a therapist so that your child can vent
While communication between parent
and child is always essential, it is particularly important when a parent has a
Parents should talk to their
children and explain, as much as they can, about what is going on. While
younger children may not fully understand the situation, older children may
want to ask questions and discuss their fears.
“I think sometimes teenagers will
try to be brave for their parents, but they don’t have to be,” said Jennifer
Grant McCarthy, administrator and fund-raising manager at Cayman Hospice Care.
“Sometimes people are too busy protecting each other and they miss out on
spending time together and having really great conversations.”
Honesty is extremely important to
communication. Parents should be open with their children and children should
be honest in terms of their fears and feelings.
Children, especially teenagers,
should be on the lookout for changes in their own behaviour. Dealing with a parent’s
illness can be very emotional and very stressful and can lead to children
While some children will act out in
order to get attention from a preoccupied parent, older children may be more
vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse. Changes in behaviour should be monitored
carefully. While everyone handles stress differently, some behavioural problems
can become dangerous.
Children should be aware of their
parents’ emotions too. Illnesses can be very stressful and emotionally
draining. Think about that before bringing up difficult issues. While you
should always keep lines of communication open, sometimes it is better to wait
a bit before adding to emotional issues.
Helping around the house can be
beneficial to both parents and children. While life around the house may change
due to the illness, doing chores and keeping some normalcy can be very helpful.
Keeping to a routine can help when things get tough. At some point every child
will need a break from reality. No child should feel guilty about needing time
away from caring for a parent. Look into respite care or having other family members
help out in order to get some much needed time away. One of the most important
things to remember is that your parents love you unconditionally and appreciate
all that you do to help them in their time of need, even though they may not be
in a position where they can tell or show you.