Caring for a Child with a Chronic Illness: The Emotional Side (Part 2)

Dr. Rick Wirtz continues his series on facing the challenges of having a child with a chronic illness.

When children become ill in serious ways there is often a period of uncertainty about the nature of the problem. Let's face it, we don't expect our children to develop serious illnesses and certainly not chronic conditions from which there may be little or no rapid improvement. It is simply not the expected order of things! Those types of problems are for the old not the young. So it is in those early days, weeks, and sometimes months until a diagnosis is made that the level of anxiety for all involved is usually very high.

Humans don't like not knowing what's next! Even if we don't like the diagnosis or the treatment plan at least we know what we're supposed to do next or what is likely to come next. As the reality of your child's condition begins to sink in it may spark a whole new wave of fears as well as empathic suffering (i.e. putting yourself 'in the child's shoes' and imagining what this illness will be like for him). Obviously, what you think it must be like for your child may be a projection because you may have little or no idea how this is experienced by him. In fact, it may tell you more about yourself than about your child. This understanding will be very important later on as you try to lead your child through this illness as effectively as possible.

Depending upon your beliefs or understanding of how life works, you may feel a great sense of unfairness that your child must go through this and that your lives will be so greatly impacted. It is in this sense of unfairness that bitterness can take root and that any spiritual beliefs that you have might be called into question. You may also experience a sense of guilt or responsibility for the illness based on some real or imagined action taken early on that you now think might have caused the illness.

However, it is in the chronicity of the illness that fatigue, frustration, and the waxing and waning feelings of being overwhelmed are at times able to do their damage. It is here that despair can take hold and lead to very dark and frightening thoughts that add yet another layer of guilt to the suffering parent or caregiver.

Although this may be sounding very gloomy and frightening to you, there are many steps you can take to help yourself and your child cope more effectively. Next week I'll outline some of those steps. Feel free to comment or offer your own experiences.

Read Part Three in this series by Dr. Wirtz.