When my husband found out he had colon cancer, he wasn’t sitting in a doctors office. There was no box of tissues nearby for him to grab. His wife wasn’t sitting next to him to take hold of his hand. No comforting words or hand on the shoulder from a doctor. He recieved the results coldly, over the phone by someone who had grown used to passing on bad test results.
I found out the news in a more gentle way. In the privacy of our bedroom, with my husband’s arms around me. My husband’s shirt to dry my tears. My husband’s gentle words to calm my fears.
Our teenagers, however, learned of Daddy’s cancer in an unusual way. My son was listening outside our bedroom door. He, of course, ran down the stairs to share what he had heard with his older sister.
The two of them, not understanding everything, but knowing it was making mom cry, began to finish making dinner and keeping their little brothers quiet.
Many people have asked me over the months how my kids are coping. The first time I was asked this question, I had to take pause. I was so wrapped up in my own feelings, I hadn’t taken the time to see how my kids were really doing. I began to pay close attention.
My fifteen year old daughter has a very laid back personality. Her way of handling daddy’s cancer has been to not think about it. Instead, she has focused on helping me out at home. Many times I have been at the cancer center with my husband and come home to a spotless house and happy little boys. My daughter’s main goal through this valley we are in, has been to make everyone as comfortable as possible. When asked what the hardest part of this journey has been for her, she will say being home all summer. She misses the family outings, having friends over, and our trips out of state.
My thirteen year old son has an A-type personality. He is the most determined person I know! He thinks very deeply, and has a lot of emotion to go along with his thoughts. His way of coping with dad’s cancer is to plan. I have had several conversations with him about the “what ifs” of our family’s future. When my husband and I come home from a long day at the hospital, we usually find that he has organized something. He will have mapped out evening plans for the entire family, and will take it upon himself to make everyone stick to his plan. When asked what has been the most difficult part of this journey, he will say seeing his dad so sick, and not having family outings this summer.
My youngest boys have, for the most part, been unphased by Dad’s cancer. As long as we have family movie nights, games of Battleship and UNO, pizza, and popsicles for the back porch, they are perfectly content. There have been a few moments of needing to ask questions about Daddy’s sickness, but when asked, the only difficulty they could think of is not getting to sleep in a tent this summer!
If you are in a hard place in your life, and have kids along for the ride, here are some truths my husband and I have learned.
1. All kids react to stress differently. Every human being has different personalities, and this includes kids. Some will hold their thoughts and fears inside, others will talk to anyone who will listen. Then there are the kids who don’t seem to notice what’s going on, and are content in their own little world. Study your children and learn how they are coping. Open doors for conversation every now and then, and make sure your kids know they can talk to you at any time.
2. Kids take their cue from their parents. If a parent is afraid or angry about their circumstances, chances are their children will be, too. Little eyes are watching how you deal with stress every day, and will copy what they see. If you are able be joyful despite your circumstances, your kids will be, too. Parents need to be careful on how they talk about things in front of their kids. This doesn’t mean you should hide the truth from your kids. They know something is going on, even if you try to hide it. Be honest with them, but be positive. Always remind your child that God is on your side!
3. Kids can get bitter, too. We learned early on, that our kids NEEDED a life outside the house. When there is a sick family member at home, it is often, that home becomes a dreary and depressing place. We make it a point to do something special with them at least once a week. This can be accomplished by trips to the library, local parks, ice cream shop, and even the YMCA. Our family also has wonderful friends, and my kids have been invited to go along with other families for outings.
4. They want to feel useful. My older son took charge of all outside chores since my husband had his stroke over a year ago. This has been a difficult task as we have a very steep hill in our yard. His determination, however, has helped him persevere in his tasks, and he is now getting attention from our neighbors, and job offers! My younger son’s are always “writing books” for their dad, or giving him “massages”. If your child is a “doer”, give him something that will make him feel that he is contributing to the family.
Lastly, here are some tips on helping your kids through difficult family trials.
1. Have a routine. Our family schedule has for the most part, been pure craziness. I have found, however, that my kids need some routine. I can’t always be there when they wake up, and there have been days I wasn’t there at bedtime. When I am home however, I make it a matter of importance to have our evenings together. I will read a couple of chapters from a book before prayers each night to my little ones. The older ones feel privileged to watch an episode of Start Treck with us before bed. Every child needs some order in their day, even during the hardest valley.
2. Pray with them often. Kids need to hear their parents talk to God. They need to hear the emotions and fears that are daily laid at the feet of Jesus. They need to feel God’s presence in their family and home.
3. Use scripture. My younger son has always struggled with fear, for as long as I can remember. He doesn’t like to be alone in any room of our house, and he is easily frightened by many things. My husband’s poor health the last two years seems to have slightly intensifed his fears. After many talks, and times of prayer with him, I recently discovered that scripture gives him the most comfort. He has a favorite verse we memorized together, and he recently asked if we could hang it up in his room.
4. Focus on making memories more than having fun. The biggest lesson I have learned with my kids, is that even fun can be forgotten. They are not going to remember every movie, every ice cream cone, or even every trip to the park. This realization has changed my planning to some extent. Now, every outing is all of us together. No one has opportunity to be home alone- there are plenty of other times for that. Also, to my entire families dismay, I take a LOT more pictures.
There is no perfect answer or laid-out plan on helping your kids walk through a valley with you. As a parent, the best thing that you can do for your kids is to be right with God. Your kids will see the comfort and the peace that God gives you in the valley, and you will be able to show them the way to God even in the midst of trials.