The Impact of Chronic Illness on a Family
We have ALL had a sick kiddo in our family at some point in time. The stomach bug goes around, winter colds are passed from member to member, sore throats and ear aches happen to us all. And when our kiddos are sick, we care for them. We pay extra attention to them, tending to the needs they have. The family adjusts. But what do we do when the family is impacted by a child who is facing chronic illness? As parents, how do we manage the care of the impacted child while maintaining care for the others and ourselves?
Facing a chronic illness in and of itself is difficult to do. Watching our kiddo face it is harder. There is a great helplessness that comes with watching our kids battle something beyond our control. There is an unfairness to it. We’d do anything to switch places with them. We’d gladly take their suffering and give them our healthy bodies. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that.
Several areas of our family life can be impacted when chronic illness is present. Our marriage, other kiddos, self-care, and interpersonal relationships can all feel the effect of chronic illness. So how do we do this thing? How do we stay intact during this season of our life?
Let’s look at marriage:
When one of our children is sick or has a disability, the marriage can take a beating, especially when there is lack of communication. The kiddo with chronic illness/disability requires more attention. It’s just a fact. There are more needs, more time is required, and the learning curve is STEEP. This can take a toll on the marriage if both parents are not intentional about coming together and supporting each other. Some ways of doing this would be:
- Words of encouragement – I am thankful to journey this with you. You’re doing a great job. I’m here for you.
- Giving each other time to rest and connect with others – Why don’t you take a nap or go spend some time with some friends.
- Showing appreciation can go a long way in any marriage, but especially when more is required – I so appreciate all you do!
Both parties need to be intentional to ask for what they have need of. Both parties need to be a support to each other. Ecclesiastes 4:12 states that “A CORD OF THREE STRANDS IS NOT EASILY BROKEN” – the third cord being God. It is VITAL to steal away time with your spouse, even if it’s on the couch chatting for ten minutes before bed or snagging a tight hug in passing. A SOLID marriage with help all parties involved.
Let’s look at the kids:
Kids are needy. Kids are demanding. Kids require a lot from us. And that’s when they’re healthy! But what about when one is needing some extra care for extended amounts of time? Kiddos with chronic illness/disability DO require more care, and that’s ok. Each child deserves their needs to be taken care of. Each child deserves to be loved. It is important, though, as parents we be intentional about building relationship with our other kiddos too. We need to be intentional about not using the chronic illness as an excuse – for example “I’m too tired to do _________ with you because I’ve been caring for your brother”. This sort of statement will build resentment between siblings. Instead, state facts – “I’m not able to play right now, but let’s set a time for later” – and keep true to your word. Talk with your kids freely about the chronic illness/disability. Let them ask questions. Let them share their frustrations and emotions around the issues. Help them gain understanding on why things are the way they are or why things have to be done a certain way – “I know you love peanut butter but it can make brother very sick.”
Let’s look at self-care:
This is the piece that most often gets neglected. Self-care is important for each person to do anyhow, but it is especially important for those facing chronic illness/disability. The demands are high. The stress is high. Self-care is not about being selfish. It’s about CARING FOR YOURSELF so you can go back and care for your family, being refreshed so you can go and refresh others. Blaming yourself is not going to be helpful either. Racking your brain to figure out what you could have done differently won’t help. Sometimes the best idea is simply taking a bath, going for a walk, getting away for a gym class, or taking a nap while kiddos nap. Even having a good cry can be helpful and refreshing. You cannot give what you don’t have, so if you have nothing left, you’ll have nothing to give your family.
Let’s look at interpersonal relationships:
This is IMPORTANT. Having other people, outside the immediate family, is beneficial. Friends can be there when you need them to be. Friends can encourage. Friends can be a part of your self-care and go out to lunch or a walk with you. Friends can help you keep perspective. Friends can uplift you in prayer. Interpersonal relationships help keep your eyes up and aware of what’s going on around you instead of you staying focused on what is going on with you.
Having a kiddo with chronic illness/disability is hard. But it’s NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Putting things in place to care for your heart, your marriage, and your family will help whether you’re new to the chronic illness/disability scene or you’ve been there for a while. Allow yourself the blessing of being cared for by God, others, and yourself.