Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dealing with Chronic Illnesses, Part 4: Taking Care of the Kids


Let’s face it: a household need a certain number of things done daily in order to run smoothly (or at least stumble along). And moms with chronic illnesses don’t always have the energy to do them. That means we often have to ask our kids (and hubbies) to step up to the plate. But what’s a mom to do when the kids resent being asked to do extra chore or being told mom can’t do something for/with them?

One of the biggest advocates for Mom’s health and kids doing chores is Dad. A father sets the tone for the whole house. If Dad plops on the sofa every night after work and asks about dinner and clean clothes when Mom is clearly not up to either, he sets up false expectations for the kiddos. On the other hand, if he willingly pitches in and encourages the children to help as well, he’s not only blessing his wife, he’s also exemplifying an attitude of servanthood.

What happens if a chronically ill mom is all your kids have ever known? That’s okay! They’ll learn how to do household chores early on. They’ll learn to be independent (in a good way). Hopefully, your kids will have extra compassion towards those who are physically weaker.

What happens if a chronically ill mom is suddenly sprung on our kids, especially if they have previously not had to do many chores? They’re in for a surprise. It’s all about expectations. In general, change leads to frustration. When a major life change like this occurs, it’s best to sit the family down and address these issues at the current level of expectation. It may be a bumpy adjustment, but don’t back down when the kids start whining about never having to do their own laundry before. They’ll adjust eventually. Promise.

Here’s what one friend had to say, “If Dad is frustrated and complaining, the children will follow suit. My husband never hesitated to clean do dishes, scrub floors, do laundry, etc., when I was down with pain. He encouraged our daughters to serve similarly. There were times when my girls were frustrated (junior high/high school), but they eventually grew to appreciate all I was able to do despite my pain. Also, I feel that my chronic pain was a plus in homeschooling. I was physically unable to hover over them or spoon-feed information. They were on their own. I wrote the lesson plans, and they carried out their work without me. They learned to dig for answers and be resourceful. Community college professors said they had incredible study skills—but that’s because they had no choice but to develop those skills. It’s all good.”

It may take a few years—or more—for our children to appreciate hard work, responsibility, and serving, but it will probably happen. Proverbs 22:6 reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

How can we try to keep our children’s attitudes in check?
·         Model servitude
·         Model a good attitude
·         Don’t ask them to perform extra chores when we’re able to do them ourselves
·         Study together biblical examples of people serving others
·         Be patient when they are frustrated and unhappy, but don’t feed into it
·         Encourage them to snuggle in bed with you to talk
·         Let them express their frustrations in an appropriate way

How can we make sure our kids know that we appreciate them and the sacrifices they’re making on our behalf (at least in their minds)?
·         Say thank you. A lot
·         Spend time with them on their terms when we’re able
·         Say yes when possible
·         Take them on special outings when possible
·         Give them little, unexpected treats just because
·         Make an effort to ask someone else to take the teens on field trips and other outings
·         Give hugs and kisses
·         Write them thank you notes for special (or even regular) acts of service
·         Let them hear you praising their actions to others

Of course, kids and teens will be frustrated from time to time, but aren’t we all? It’s that root of bitterness that we have to watch out for. Ephesians 4:31 admonishes, “Let all bitterness . . . be put away from you.”

Bottom line: there’s no guarantee that our kids won’t spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours stretched out on a therapist’s couch whining about their forced slavery. But there’s also no guarantee that kids who have been raised in church won’t forsake it, either. While we have no control over how our children choose to feel, I believe our number one defense against the root of bitterness in our children, especially as it concerns how our physical limitations affect them, is prayer. 

This post also appears over at Heart of the Matter today. Go check out the other fabulous contributors!