As Big As It Gets
Help and support ... for parents and children
We have written this booklet to help parents help their children. Perhaps as you are reading this you are thinking “But I am fighting this illness. I will have every treatment I can. The children don’t need to know what is happening. This is not for me”. If so, please think again. If the illness is serious, if it will change you in some way, if it is causing you to feel worried or stressed, then it will affect your children. There are no ‘right’ answers, but there are options – and there are questions your children are likely to ask. There are reactions – situations you can handle and resolve. There are signs that can warn you to seek professional help. Families come in all shapes and sizes and no family is like any other. You may have a supportive partner or one who finds it hard to face what is happening. You may be facing this challenge on your own with children.
Encouraging resilience, strength and confidence
This has been written so your child can feel resilient and strong, and confident enough to share the natural feelings of loss when someone they love is seriously ill. Some of the ideas and conversations may feel almost unbearably challenging to you as a protective and loving parent. However, every activity is included because we know it will help your child in the short and long term. Together, the ideas and activities will act as an ‘emotional insurance policy’ that you are putting in place should the worst happen – that is, if you don’t pull through. But, like all insurance policies, it will not make it more likely to happen. Hopefully, it will mean that you can feel reassured that you have put tangible reminders in place that you love your children unconditionally and that it is not your choice to be ill. Trying to be emotionally available as a parent ‘in sickness and in health’ is never easy. Trust your instincts and confidence – after all, you know your children best.
Living in a different way
The reality of living with a serious illness, especially when the prognosis is not a good one, highlights the challenge of trying to live with uncertainty and maintaining hope. Involving children in such a complex emotional mix is daunting. Increasingly, a diagnosis of something like cancer is more about a treatable illness than a terminal condition. A great number of people recover from cancer. Even those with a terminal prognosis are surviving longer. This raises the possibility of what Jane Tomlinson CBE described as “to live what life I have left in a different way”. Holding on to hope, and living each day to the full, inspires many people to feel they have choices at a time when they could easily feel helpless and alone. The ideas presented here simply encourage you to do this with your children at a time when your future health is uncertain.
Dealing with the truth
Children have an ability to deal with the truth that adults often underestimate. Not knowing can make them feel anxious or confused. Pretending to your child in any way will inevitably make things worse. The belief that children don’t know
what is happening is perhaps in itself misleading. Children almost always know or, at least, know ‘something’. Partial or inaccurate information can be more worrying than the truth. If other people know about your illness, you may worry that your children may hear about it from someone other than you. Even very sad truths will be better than the uncertainty of not knowing what is happening. We cannot stop children feeling sad, but if we share our feelings and give them information, we can support them in their sadness.
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