Parenting by a Heartstring

When serious illness, hospitalization, and medical emergency strike a family, the time clock stops. The mundane evaporates. The everyday tasks take a back seat. The family's focus shifts to crisis mode. Every family member's private worries mount. Issues of life and death dictate every waking hour, tears drip down the eyes at a moment's glance. All sense of control is lost and a dramatic leap of faith is put into the professional caregivers. It's a stalled, nighttime ride along the wintry lake; 
everything I care about is at stake. 
The trees are bare and the waves storm into shore. 
The full moon is alert, how much can I hurt? 
Why me? Parenting by a heartstring.

My wife, Susie recently had open-heart surgery. We've been aware of the need for surgery for years, a long-term side effect of the radiation therapy she received during the treatment of Hodgkin's Lymphoma in the mid-70's. Despite all of our best intentions and all the mental and logistical preparations we made prior to surgery, nobody could have prepared us for the medical complications that occurred three weeks after surgery.

The world seems upside down, 
my smile has become a frown. 
Why does she have to endure such pain? It's insane. 
Why do my girls bear this burden? 
Why me? Parenting by a heartstring.

Functioning in the crisis mode is like being on a scary roller coaster when nobody asked you permission if you wanted to come along for the ride. There is no choice. Suddenly, all kinds of decisions need to be made medically which directly impact your family life and employment. You become pulled in multiple directions. The truth of the matter is: you do the best you can by setting clear boundaries, remaining attentive to your children's needs, asking for help from people close to you, and taking the best care of yourself as possible.

It's my own sociodrama, I'm downtrodden 
Forget thinking about Osama bin Laden 
for the winds have shifted, blood is being taken. 
What did I do to deserve this? 
Why me? Parenting by a heartstring.

Taking care of your children during the crisis becomes a top priority. Parenting decisions may vary depending upon the developmental needs of your children - a college student has different needs than a five year old. Yet, regardless of age, all children are sad and scared and you need to acknowledge their feelings and allow the emotional space to experience these feelings on their own terms. Children also need consistency and structure. Their daily schedule, if at all possible, must continue. Clearly, some activities will be altered, but maintaining the regularity of school, friends, and extra-curriculars is key in helping your child cope. Hospital visits for the children should be kept short. Daily visitation cannot be expected or demanded. Medical information can be shared with children but communicated in a way respectful of age and emotional maturity. Less information is advisable for younger children.

Interestingly and unwittingly, you are role modeling crisis management for your children. Your child will remember, in his or her own perceived reality, the sequence of events, and it will be different than yours. Regardless of the differing perceptions between parent and child, the parent role embodies level headedness, fortitude and faith. Not only are you managing a crisis, you are also maintaining the role of mom or dad. Your child's sense of security and being taken care of is being shaken. The simple things in your child's life become extremely important like reading a book at nighttime, a kiss on the cheek before they get on the school bus, or making a favorite meal. As parent you cannot erase the pain, but through some semblance of love, availability, understanding, and calmness, you can bring comfort to your child.

Family dynamics often 'bubble up' to the surface during a medical crisis. One of two things might happen. Family members come through with flying colors, and in some cases, this opens the pathways to potentially rework past differences. On the other hand, dysfunctional family dynamics repeat and negative feelings are brewed and you literally receive 'more of the same'. As family drama unfolds, your children become key players and experience grandparents, aunts, uncles, and extended relatives under a different light exposing raw emotions. Be available to talk with your children about the family dynamics while remembering you are the role model to your child and someday, your child may be a parent navigating a very similar crisis.

Parenting during a crisis requires the wisdom to know you are operating on many levels with many different roles. Parenting during a crisis requires the insight to know that you cannot battle everything alone and must engage your family and friends to help lay the foundation for support. They provide a network of unbelievable resources that range from kind words and familiar voices to making meals, running chores and getting second and third opinions. Having your children witness a community of love and support is an invaluable lesson of life. Family and friends together makes PARENTING BY A HEARTSTRING work.

The warm gentle hand is near 
Kindly calming my tender fear 
For the precious winds have shifted once again 
It's alright now, there's no shadows at high noon 
Why NOT me? Parenting from a heartstring.