When you’re a chronic pain patient ánd you’re raising (a) kid(s)
Impact on the family
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Parenting with chronic pain is full of challenges.
It’s only logical that your pain affects not only you and your partner, but your children as well, especially if they still live at home. Children are always affected by the ailment of a parent. It is very hard to always be there when your child needs you most.
Multiple publications tell us that children living with a chronically ill parent are often a hidden concern, a forgotten group. The families pretend to be in a better situation than they are and avoid asking for help. The children end up being more at risk for issues such as fear, depression, withdrawn behavior and many physical ailments, compared to children from families that have two healthy parents.
The diagnosis may affect them almost as much as it does you. Even so, there are many things you can do to reduce the negative impact of the pain on the family. This is especially difficult at first, since you’re still going through the mourning process yourself.
However, I am certain that, as is the case for most parents, the happiness of your children is the most important thing of all. So for their sake, try to put your own troubles and toils aside and invest in keeping a healthy relationship with them. Don’t underestimate how important this is, and take appropriate precautions.
“Children only need three things from you:
LOVE, INFORMATION AND REASSURANCE!”
Be honest about your ailment. Don’t try to be over-protective and hide how much pain you’re in. Even the youngest children can tell when something is wrong. If you’re not honest towards your child, they’ll find out eventually. In the meantime, they might get completely the wrong idea; maybe they’ll assume that Dad or Mom is dying, that they themselves are being put up for adoption, or that they’re also destined to become sick. If they sense a lot of tension in the household, they might conclude that Mom and Dad are getting a divorce. Children also have a tendency to feel guilty about their parents’ pain in some way.
“The idea of post-traumatic stress may be familiar, but one can also create a post-traumatic growth.
Let that be the goal for your family”
Of course your child is able to help with the simple things, but the tasks and responsibilities need to fit his* age. Don’t take his help for granted, and be sure to give your child the appreciation he deserves.
Beware that you avoid turning your child into a nurse. A twelve year old who has to give his mother her injections is one bridge too far.
Be alert if your child loses sleep, starts having difficulty concentrating, or encounters other problems at school, or if he becomes fearful.
Make sure that there is a trustworthy person outside of your direct family, like a grandmother, teacher or a neighbor, where your child can always go.
Don’t hesitate too long to seek professional help if you think your child is having serious difficulty handling the situation.
Pay attention to the following:
Most people with significant chronic pain are angry; it’s a logical result of their ongoing frustration and hopelessness. Anger and pain are always linked and one is not going to go away without the other.
If you don’t recognize yourself in this, that may be because your negative emotions have become a baseline. If you are a CPP for a long time this has become your normal state to be in. So even if you think this statement does not apply to you, ask your loved ones about it. Ask your spouse and your children what it is to be around you when you’re angry as a result of the pain. Their answer may startle you!
Chronic pain takes a terrible toll on those close to you. You don’t need to feel guilty about this, but it’s important to understand it, because when you are in a lot of pain and, as a result, are very frustrated and angry, there is a chance of you becoming abusive towards your children. Be aware of this danger!
You probably won’t recognize yourself in this, and why would you? Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks: “How can I make my children’s lives miserable today?” But when you’re in pain everything is completely about you, and when you have a flare-up and you become even angrier, the chances of mistreating your child become considerably higher. But you don’t want your children to be afraid of you whenever you’re in pain, do you?
“Absolutely seek help when physical or emotional violence or abuse is likely to occur!”
Some dos and don’ts
Some of the dos and don’ts from the book ‘Coping with chronic pain, a team effort! For You and Your Kids’, which you can order here.
- Offer reassurance to your child, and tell him that, despite your pain, you still love him very much.
- Look for alternatives with your child for the things you can no longer do together.
- Assure your child that he’s not to blame for your ailment and that you won’t leave him.
- Assuming that it’s the case, tell him that it’s not contagious and that you won’t die from it.
- Use a book or the Internet to explain what your ailment is, what the consequences are and what’s going to change for your child. Answer his question and return to the subject regularly.
- Encourage your child to show his emotions and comfort him when he’s worried.
- Make sure that your child remains able to go to school, play with friends and keep up with his sports or hobbies.
- Be aware of big changes in his behavior. Seek professional help if needed.
- Use words to describe the pain and the symptoms of your ailment.
- Do as many fun things with your family as possible, both indoors and outdoors. Many activities can be adjusted in a way that means even sick people can join in.
- Try to hide anger and frustration when your child is around. Explain and apologize if you fail to do so.
- Make sure to ask for help before any abuse or violence comes into your family’s life.
“Structure is very important to children. Try to keep it in place as much as you can.
Make sure that there are clear rules and boundaries, and keep enforcing them”.
- Hide your pain from your child.
- Involve your child in the housekeeping so much that his school, homework, sports or hobbies suffer.
- Give caretaking assignments to your child. Do: have your partner do these, if there’s no other option, but it’s preferable to just let the professional homecare take care of this.
- Assume that your child understands what’s going on because you think he’s old enough, or used to the situation, and so doesn’t need reassurance anymore.
- Moan and groan or express how hard a time you’re having in different non-verbal ways. This is very worrying for children.
- Always stay at home (or even in bed) and let your partner take care of the kids.
- Vent your anger, frustrations and fears about your ailment to your child.
“The most important thing for your relationship with your child is
that you let him feel that you love him, regardless of the problems”.
* To improve the readability of this page, I will refer to the patient as ‘she,’ ‘her’ and ‘mother’ instead of using ‘he/she,’ ‘his/her’ ‘mother/father,’ all the time. It reads so much easier and I will assume that everyone is able to fill in the correct form. I chose to write in the female form because chronic pain is more common amongst females than it is amongst males. For the child I have chosen for the male form, as a contrast to the female patient.