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When Parents Fall Sick

Even if you're sick, you're still a parent

Reena Malkani, mother of 6-year-old Ankit, had to have an emergency appendectomy. She says, "I was in agony because my appendix was inflamed. I couldn't see straight from the pain. I just knew that I wanted it to stop. I didn't give a thought to what my son must be thinking."

This is not unusual because when a person falls ill, the only thing that they can think of is getting better. The fact that they are parents becomes secondary. Unfortunately, you can't take time off from being a parent. It's a lifetime thing. 

An anxious time for children

A parent's illness is an anxious time for the whole family and maybe more so for the children because they don't know what's going on. When parents fall sick, children tend to worry that they are going to die or disappear and they wonder who's going to look after them. 

When children see their parents laid up in bed or in pain, they resent the fact that things are not the same and that 'mommy' or 'daddy' is not available to them any more in the usual way. Children are too young to be rational and unselfish. Parents distracted by worries about their illness and unable to spend time with their children may unwittingly give rise to thoughts in their children's minds that their parents don't love them any more. Parents have to understand that their children derive a lot of comfort from the predictability of their routine. 

Children need to know

Often parents in a misguided attempt to 'protect' their children tell them that everything is all right. However, this creates further confusion in the children's mind because they are perceptive enough to see that there is definitely something wrong and their parents are communicating a conflicting message. 

If your sickness is going to keep you in bed for a few days, make it a point to briefly explain to your children that you are going to have to rest for a few days so that you can get better quickly and play with them.

It's important that all family members and close friends stick to the story that you have told your children. It will be very confusing and worrying for your children if they are told things about your illness that are not consistent with your version of the story. 

Going to hospital 

If you need to be hospitalized, it is going to make your children even more anxious if possible. It's bad enough that you are not well enough to go on with your parenting duties as usual, but now they don't even have your physical presence to give them some reassurance. It may be difficult, but you're going to have to take the time out to explain in simple words what is the matter with you. They are not going to understand the details of something like an inflamed appendix. But what you can tell them is that there is this little part of your body that is hurting you and the doctor is going to make you better by taking it out at the hospital. Older children can be given more information because they will be able to comprehend more. 

You are also going to have to make arrangements to ensure that your children's routine remains undisturbed as far as possible. For instance, you can explain to your children that even if you don't come to pick them up at school as usual, your spouse or somebody else that they are familiar with will be there. Take any help that is offered in order to minimize upsetting your children's routine. 

Children below the age of five can be taken for hospital visits, but they will have to be prepared in advance for the sights, sounds and smells. Avoid bringing them to the hospital if you (or your roommate if you have one) are hooked up to machines. It's better if they visit you when you can sit up or even walk around. It's more reassuring.

Coming home

When you come back from the hospital, your children are going to expect you to be as good as new and slide back into your routine as soon as you walk in the door. Unfortunately, leaving the hospital does not mean that you're fighting fit. Often you will need more time to recover your strength. Your children are probably not going to like this or understand it. You are going to have to explain that while you may look fine on the outside, you are still going to need your rest before you completely recovered. 

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