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Parents, Marriage, and Family

Originally published on November 10, 2009
Most recently updated on April 10, 2013

The tasks, obligations, and emotions related to having a child with a serious illness can strain even a strong marriage and family. If parents are divorced or separated, they will need to try to put their personal differences aside to help their child. Single parents may need even more support from the community and outside sources.

By now, you might have seen a few changes in your family relationships. Anticipate, expect, and accept that role changes will occur. Who does what in the family may change, and these new jobs may have to be negotiated. For example, who is the caregiver and who is the breadwinner may change, especially when health insurance is tied to employment status. No single role is more important than the other. Each job is needed for the family to function as a whole. Respect and accept your partner for what he or she does. And remember, it may help to include each other and other family members in everyday care of your child.

Everyone copes in a different way. There is no right way of coping with a child’s serious illness. Try to recognize, accept, and honor your partner’s style of coping even if it is different from yours. Some people need to talk. Others prefer introspection and quiet. Make time for yourselves as a couple, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. You can share feelings and maintain a relationship as partners.

Here are some suggestions to help you adapt and develop your coping skills:

  • Gather information. Knowledge is critical to accessing expert care and ensuring quality of life. There will be less mystery, and you may gain a sense of having more control.
  • Seek counseling when needed, as having a child with a serious illness can magnify other problems that were occurring prior to the diagnosis.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and imagery.
  • Work on and use your sense of humor. Studies show that laughter releases stress and improves the immune system.
  • Expect that there will be stressful times. Anxiety is normal under the circumstances.
  • Prioritize your worries. Although it is natural to focus on smaller, less frightening annoyances, save your energy for the big things.
  • Write your feelings down in a journal and let your partner read what you are feeling. Emotions can be less overwhelming and more easily understood when written, rather than shared “in the heat of the moment.”

Find and use a support system. It may not necessarily be your immediate family but instead may be trusted friends, hospital staff, and other community resources.

Many families now make use of the Internet to communicate. Some parents select one person to send out a group e-mail message that updates everyone on a regular basis. Others make use of resources such as Caring Bridge Caring Bridge is an organization that created a web site for families of children with a chronic or terminal illness. On the site, families create their own page that details their child’s hospitalization, then distribute the address of their page to other family members and friends. Then, everyone can read updates by accessing the page without disturbing the family.


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