Chronic Communication at Home: Unpredictable Health and Parenting—What You Can Do
Help your children understand and cope when your health disrupts family routines
By July 6, 2015 816
“We had the whole day planned,” my client said to me. “Pancakes followed by a trip to our local swimming pool. And then I woke up that morning knowing those plans were going to have to change. Starting with making those pancakes. My kids tried not to show their disappointment, but I knew they were. And I felt even worse.”
When you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis or another chronic condition, life isn’t always very predictable, to say the least. The best-laid of plans can suddenly be shifted in a whole new direction when, out of the blue, you find yourself not feeling quite up to what you had planned.
Unpredictability can be rough on you. If you’re a parent, it can be rough on your kids. Which makes unpredictability even harder to accept. It’s one thing to have our own plans turned upside down. But the kids’ plans too?
Kids thrive on routine. Favorite foods. Favorite activities. Morning and evening rituals. And knowing what they can expect from parents. This gives them a sense of well-being and control over their world. Because they thrive on routine, sudden changes can make them feel anxious and insecure.
Parents also thrive on routine. After all, routine helps keep things running a lot more smoothly at home. So not being able to provide kids with these predictable routines can be frustrating for parents. And leave them feeling guilty.
Not a recipe for a happy home.
Now here’s the good news: Home is the best place for kids to learn how to cope with change. This means that parents have an opportunity to work with their kids to help them cope with unpredictability and help them grow in the process by teaching them how to accept change and make the best of it. Great skills to have as they enter into adulthood, right? How’s that for making the picture a little brighter?
Here’s how to help your kids survive and thrive when life gets unpredictable:
Communicate. Everybody knows when routines are out of whack. And children know when their parents aren’t quite on their A game. Pretending everything is okay can cause kids to feel even more anxious because, in the absence of information, they may create stories of their own. So a recommended starting point is to focus on how to talk about the sudden shift in plans, and work together on a way forward.
Be upfront about what you can do and what you can’t do. Your kids can probably see that you aren’t feeling your best, or they can hear it in your voice. Sit down with them and let them know you aren’t having a good day. Review the plans you had. Let them know what you will be able to participate in, what you aren’t going to be able to do, and what you are going to try to do but may not be successful at accomplishing. This way, everybody can have the same expectations.
Be clear about how you feel. You don’t have to pretend that you feel okay about having to make adjustments in the plans. Sad? Frustrated? Angry? Disappointed? Guilty? Tell your kids how you’re feeling emotionally. You’ll be setting a good example for how to cope with your feelings when life doesn’t go as you would like it to.
Encourage open communication in return. A day when plans have to change can be a teachable moment in more ways than one. You’ve talked about how you feel, now encourage your kids to do the same. Let them know you’re open to hearing about how they’re feeling. Most likely, they are having some of the same feelings you are. Think of it this way: Talking about feelings and knowing they are being listened to can help kids to cope with feelings that may be uncomfortable and confusing to them.
Ask for help. Kids can feel helpless when they know their parents don’t feel great, and this can increase their anxiety. Because of that, they might appreciate knowing what they can do to give you a hand. So think about something they might be able to do that can help them feel like they are doing their part. Taking action is a great way to deal with anxious feelings.
Work out a plan B together. Another teachable moment here. Ask your children to brainstorm with you on a plan B. That might mean modifying the plans you had made, or finding a new activity, or even making the best of a day spent at home. Bring them into the planning process and they will feel a sense of ownership on whatever alternative you end up with. This is also a great way to teach them how to cope with sudden change.
Provide some reassurance. Kids need to know that everything is going to be okay. You can’t necessarily guarantee that. But you can provide reassurance by telling your children that you are doing everything possible to take good care of yourself, that you are working with your doctor, following his or her orders, taking your medication, etc. Tell, but also show.
Develop routines that work for you. Within your condition’s limitations. Kids need and appreciate routines at home. So build in as much routine as possible—simple things that you can usually handle. As simple as the way you greet them when they get up in the morning, or watching a favorite TV show together in the evening. Watch for what your kids seem to enjoy and appreciate the most, and try to build this into each day. If you have a partner, work together on keeping routines in place when you aren’t feeling your best.
Unpredictablity. Parenting. When your chronic condition interferes with your plans, use this as an opportunity to grow closer to your children. And to help your children learn and grow. It all starts with communication!
Have your health challenges affected your children or your family routines? What helped, or didn’t help? Share your experiences and advice by adding a comment below.